Brian Banks, a California man who spent nearly six years in prison on false allegations of rape, has not only gained back his freedom, but the opportunity to play professional football. Banks was accused of raping a classmate while in High school. At that time, he had been offered a scholarship to play at the University of Southern California.

Because of complexities in the case, fearing that he may receive a potentially long sentence, he pleaded no contest to the sexual assault, but maintained his innocence during his whole time in prison, as well as during his subsequent probation and registration as a sex offender.

Banks was eventually exonerated after the woman admitted that Banks had not kidnapped or raped her during a consensual encounter. His conviction was tossed out in May. The 26-year-old is now set to play with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League. Banks considers it the next step toward his ultimate goal of playing in the NFL.

Stories like this are both hopeful and concerning. While it is certainly a victory to see an innocent man free from a serious conviction, it is also scary that innocent people can face the kinds of circumstances faced by Banks. His story, to be truthful, is not as tragic as many wrongful conviction stories.

These cases point to the overwhelming need of criminal defendants to build the strongest defense possible. Whether or not the ultimate goal is to prove their innocence, they need to know their rights, build a solid defense, and hold prosecutors to their full burden of proof. Getting in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney early on in the process is the first step.

Source: CNN, “Former inmate exonerated in rape case joins pro football team,” Brad Lendon, September 21, 2012