Unfortunately, it is true that not everyone who is arrested for a crime is in fact guilty of that crime. It has occasionally appeared in the news in recent years in the context of people being freed from death row when DNA testing proves the convicted “murderer” couldn’t have been the real killer. But, it happens in less than horrific crimes as well. What follows includes descriptions of cases of actual innocence I have personally handled as a defense attorney. All names of people mentioned below have been changed to protect the privacy of the innocent. As you read these, please remember EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT. RESULTS IN ONE CASE DO NOT INDICATE THE SAME RESULTS IN FUTURE CASES.
I’ve had plenty cases of disagreements between 2 people where the people went to ask the magistrate for an arrest warrant. The first one to the magistrate’s office wins. I especially hate it when it’s an abusive loved one who gets the warrant issued for their victim. It’s just plain unfair.
Sometimes, a person is stopped by the police for a traffic violation but does not want the officer to know his real identity. So, the person gives the officer the name of a relative or friend who looks reasonably like him. If the officer realizes it at the scene, the person will be arrested for falsely identifying himself and possibly for forgery of a public document (signing the ticket). If the officer doesn’t realize she’s been lied to, the stop goes like normal and the driver leaves the scene with a ticket he does not intend to pay and a court date he intends to miss. When he misses court for something jailable like reckless driving, an arrest warrant is issued in the name of the unsuspecting person who has never met the police officer in his, let alone been stopped by her. I’ve helped both the guy who got stopped and the unsuspecting victim of identity theft (in different cases of course). One case even involved identical twins!
Other times, it’s an honest mistake made by the police. I once helped a man I’ll call Juan. Juan had 2 jobs when his car broke down. Getting it fixed was more than he wanted to spend, so Juan decided to take up jogging. One night, Juan got out of work after midnight and tried to jog home. On the way, he happened to jog nearby a group of young men of the same race who were caught redhanded dismantling a car and running from the police officer who had found them. Juan was arrested and taken to jail where he was forced to pay several hundred dollars to a bail bondsman before being allowed to go home. No one would tell Juan why he was being arrested until the magistrate gave him the warrant for car theft. The first time I heard Juan’s story, my answer was something like a sarcastic “yeah right.” Well, it turned out to be true. Everywhere the prosecutor looked for evidence against Juan ended up producing more evidence proving his innocence! The prosecutor came to realize that as suspicious as the timing and location of Juan’s jog was, it truly was a coincidence. The charge was dropped and Juan was able to return to his normal life.
Still other times, the police receive a false report of a crime and believe it’s true. A young adult we’ll call Charlie was invited to visit a friend’s home. While he was waiting for his friend to arrive, a teenaged girl who lived there decided she would get a new boyfriend by showing Charlie more than he needed to see. Charlie’s friend came in and saw the girl in all her beauty. The girl’s reaction was to claim she’d been raped. Shortly before Charlie’s trial, the girl admitted to the prosecutor that Charlie had done nothing wrong. When she’d tried to attract Charlie’s attention, Charlie had actually been embarrassed and turned away.
Not everyone who is accused is guilty. But, anyone who is facing the loss of freedom and money for a crime they didn’t commit, not to mention gaining a lifelong criminal record unfairly should get help from that lawyer they never thought they would ever need.