A man who spent more than 27 years in prison for crimes he did not commit has agreed to a $16.9 million settlement with the District of Columbia. The settlement was announced a federal jury was preparing to determine damages in the case. Earlier this week, the same jury found that two D.C. homicide detectives fabricated at least part, if not all, of the confession the man allegedly made to a police informant, leading to the man’s conviction in the 1981 rape and murder of a Georgetown University student. The detectives were also found to have withheld evidence in the cause, prompting many to call for an investigation into their handling of other criminal cases.
In 2009, the man’s original conviction had been overturned, when DNA evidence exonerated him of the crimes. The exoneration has already prompted internal reviews by the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. attorney’s office. The case marks the first federal civil rights ruling over a wrongful conviction in D.C., but is similar to a 2012 Illinois verdict that held the city of Chicago liable for $25 million in damages as the result of a wrongful murder conviction.
Common Causes of Wrongful Convictions
While intentional actions on the part of law enforcement can certain lead to a defendant being wrongfully convicted, there many other factors that can contribute as well. These often include:
- Mistakes by eyewitnesses: The human memory is notoriously unreliable in many stressful situations, and witnesses may remember details and events differently than they actually occurred;
- Bad science: Testing methods and commonly-accepted “truths” are often not quite as accurate as prosecutors may want to believe;
- False confessions: Interrogation procedures and other methods of producing a confession or guilty plea have caused many defendants to admit to crimes they did not commit and were nowhere near; and
- Informants with ulterior motives: Police and investigators frequently rely on the assistance of informants, some paid and others rewarded with reduced sentences of their own. It is not uncommon for an informant to provide false information simply to better his or her own outcome.
One final contributor to many wrongful convictions is the inadequate performance of defense attorneys. Defense counsel is often assigned to defendants who cannot afford attorneys by the court, and lawyers with too large of a workload may not spend the necessary time and energy to fully investigate their cases.
At our law firm, providing comprehensive, responsible legal representation is always our top priority, no matter how dire a case may seem. If you have been accused of a crime that you did not commit, contact an experienced Rolling Meadows criminal defense lawyer. We will investigate the circumstances of your arrest from top to bottom and will work with you in protecting your rights under the law. Call 847-253-3100 to schedule your free initial consultation with the Cosley Law Office today.