There was a recent article published on Yahoo News that illustrates the need to have a good defense attorney represent you if you are charged with a crime. The article, published June 23, 2015, is a cautionary tale that, frankly, makes your jaw drop and leaves you thinking that there is no way that this could actually happen.
Jonathan Fleming was accused of killing a friend in 1989 in New York City. The main evidence against him was eyewitness testimony from a woman who said she saw Fleming commit the crime. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, right?
It turns out that Fleming was actually in Orlando, Florida at the time of the murder. He provided the authorities a huge amount of exculpatory evidence during the investigation. Among other things, he provided plane tickets and even a video showing him in Orlando at the time of the murder. He was convicted anyway.
At some point after his conviction, the eyewitness recanted her testimony. New witnesses were produced who identified another suspect. Further investigation then found a load of information in the authorities’ files, including an Orlando hotel receipt paid by Fleming five hours before the murder and a letter from the Orlando police stating that some hotel employees remembered Fleming as having been in the hotel. This information was apparently never provided to his defense.
Brady v. Maryland
This case contains a whole slew of events that should have never been allowed to happen. First and foremost, prosecutors are required to give the defense any evidence they have that would tend to exonerate the defendant. In most jurisdictions this requirement occurs when the defense files a “Brady” motion. A Brady motion is predicated on a 1963 Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland. In that case, prosecutors withheld a confession from a co-defendant wherein he admitted to murdering the victim that Brady was convicted for killing. The Court ruled that the 14th Amendment requires prosecutors to divulge exculpatory evidence (that is, evidence that tends to clear someone of blame) to a defendant as a due process requirement. This is a principle of criminal law that is taught to every first-year law student and, many would argue, is among the most important tools that a defense attorney has. Remember, the prosecution has access to the police and also has their own investigators. The police are responsible for gathering large amounts of evidence and it is not always in their favor. If they hide it or destroy it, the defense may have no other means of finding out about it.
This being said, why did this case end in this horrible result? While many facts of this case seem to be lost to time, one would think that an experienced defense attorney would have interviewed the Orlando police detectives responsible for investigating Fleming’s presence in Florida. They would have filed a Brady motion that would have produced evidence that would go a long way to proving Fleming’s innocence.
Fleming spent almost 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The evidence was all there for the finding, but this didn’t happen. It is easy in hindsight to say what should have happened, but this seems an extreme case of what should have happened differently. What if you are charged with a crime? Does your attorney know how to properly challenge a breathalyzer result or file an adequate Brady motion in a drug possession case? You need to ensure that your defense attorney has the experience and ability to zealously defend your case.
Jad Sarsour has spent years defending clients in Northern Virginia from all types of criminal charges. He knows the law and how to maneuver in a courtroom. If you are facing criminal charges, give him a call at (571) 367-7009 to set up your initial consultation and begin building your defense today.