As defense attorneys, we have seen all kinds of cases, from the best to the worst, and everything in between. Recently, we had a client who was charged with Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse, a Class 2 felony offense, for which he could have served up to 7 years in prison. He was innocent, and we fought for him, unwilling to accept anything but a dismissal or an acquittal at trial. The State wouldn't dismiss the case entirely, and instead we obtained a Not Guilty verdict after a two-day jury trial.
In talking with people about the case, the question came up—as it too often does—"how could an innocent person wind up being charged in the first place?" Most people who do not work as defense attorneys think that whoever is charged did it, that everyone tells the truth, and that police are always as exacting in their attention to detail as we see on T.V. and in the movies. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as every defense attorney has seen during the course of his or her career.
To answer the question of how the innocent wind up being charged, and, like our recent client, fighting for his life, we have to look the system itself. Its inherent flaws allow the innocent to be charged, and what should serve as a check or balance on one person or agency often fails.
Essentially, innocent people can find themselves charged because of three types of people: innocent liars, intentional liars, and those deliberately seeking injustice. Innocent liars are those who think they're telling the truth, but aren't. For example, the eye witness, who due to all kinds of reasons mis-identifies a person as the person who committed the crime. Volumes have been written about issues like mis-identification, cross-racial identification, and so on, but there is no cure to these issues that has yet to be identified.
The second group of people responsible for the innocent being charged is by far the largest group, and it is made up of the intentional liars. Intentional liars are just that. They are intentionally making a false allegation against someone. This was what happened to our client, who was acquitted after we convinced a jury to find him Not Guilty, the facts of which will be the topic in a later article.
Finally, there are those who deliberately seek injustice, which occurs when those in the system go out of their way to "make" or "build" a case against someone they "know" did it. Although this last group could encompass an extreme, such as planting evidence on someone, it is more readily seen in instance in which law enforcement just does not like a person and will do whatever it takes to see that person convicted. As defense attorneys, we have seen detectives suggest to witnesses in interrogations of them that it was a particular person. Volumes have been written about suggestive interrogation techniques, some of which have found their way into our police academies and other training. One need look no further than our country's history in the prosecution—or persecution—of minority populations in our country to find countless examples of innocent people accused because of this last group.
The checks and balances along the way from initial complaint to prosecution should prevent an innocent person from having to fight for his or her life, but this rarely happens. Prosecutors are just too busy, judges are just too limited in their authority, and the law is just too restrictive to prevent a person from being required to have a trial.
Although we have a presumption of innocence in our Constitution, too often the innocent have to prove their innocence at trial. Doing so requires aggressive criminal defense, and that's what Johnson Law Group is here to do 24/7.
Copyright © 2018 by Brendan Bukalski
The information provided in this column is general in nature, and should not be relied upon as legal advice or interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. As a general rule, all specific legal problems should be handled by an individual's attorney. All rights reserved. Any copying, duplication, or commercial use of the information contained in this column is strictly prohibited without prior permission.