It’s hard to imagine anything more terrifying than being arrested for a terrible crime that you know you did not commit and told the prosecutor has the evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
If being falsely accused weren’t enough, imagine being arrested for rape and being told the prosecutor has your DNA taken directly from the victim’s body. You’re not getting out of jail. You’re going to lose your job. Your reputation is destroyed.
This actually happened to a Denver man earlier this year. He spent 61 days in jail before being completely exonerated. What happened? A clerical error.
On the Fourth of July, he and several friends had attended a rooftop party, where they watched the fireworks. As far as he was concerned, that was a few hours of his life.
The next morning, however, the host of the rooftop event realized she had been raped. She had apparently passed out and didn’t remember what happened, but her panties were off and she was in pain. She reported the assault to the police, who combed the crime scene for evidence.
Months later, police came to the door of the Denver man and accused him of rape. They told him DNA taken from the victim’s body was an exact match for his own DNA, which had been entered into a database at some earlier time.
It took him over two months to extricate himself. It turns out that the police did gather DNA evidence from the crime scene that was an exact match for the man — from a cigarette butt. The samples were mixed up, and his cigarette butt sample was mislabeled as the sample from the victim’s body.
That mix-up almost certainly means that the sample from the victim’s body is now tainted and cannot be used to prosecute the actual rapist.
The prosecutor calls this mislabeling a “clerical error.” We call it a miscarriage of justice.
If you or someone you care about has been accused of a sexual offense, don’t despair. Police and prosecutors do make mistakes, and they do become overzealous. Defendants need to protect themselves by hiring an aggressive, experienced criminal defense lawyer.