The false imprisonment of a Milwaukee man accused of a drug crime he didn't commit serves as a sobering reminder that prosecutors and law enforcement authorities can and do make mistakes. To protect against such injustice, it's vital that defendants have aggressive legal representation.
The man, 36, was arrested Oct. 5 and charged with possession with intent to distribute more than 15 grams of cocaine. The man was arrested at an east side hotel along with a 26-year-old acquaintance accused of similar offenses.
After their arrest both men were interviewed and, in accordance with the district attorney's office long-standing policy, documentation from both cases was put in the men's individual case files.
But a few weeks ago, as the assistant district attorney handling the man's case sat down with his defense attorney, he discovered a recording of the interview with the man's co-defendant. In the interview the other accused man confessed to police that he was the owner of the drugs, the gun and even the car used in the crime. He stated that the other man was only with him because the perpetrator of the crime didn't have a valid driver's license and needed a driver.
This exonerating evidence should have been included in the innocent man's files according to office policy, but instead a clerical oversight kept him jailed for more than 130 days. No one at the district attorney's office knew the interview was missing because police reports in the man's file gave no indication that either defendant had made a statement. The man has since been released and his court costs waived.
Although justice was served in the end, the wrongly accused man in this case will never get those months back that he needlessly spent in jail. Effective communication between a defendant and his or her attorney can often eliminate errors like this one, as can the attorney's thorough investigation of all details of the criminal case.
Source: Juneau County Star Times, "'Lost' evidence kept man jailed 133 days," Peter Rebhahn, Feb. 15, 2013
- Our firm assists Wisconsin residents who have been accused of drug crimes and other offenses. To learn more about our practice, visit our Milwaukee drug crimes page.