Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hear the one about the guy who thought he was innocent unless proven guilty?

Innocent unless proven guilty? Really?

Try telling that to Jose Torres. Mr. Torres was charged with aggravated sexual assault. It was alleged that he visited a house as a sales rep for a cable company and then went back two days later and raped a 14-year-old. The only problem was, he didn't do it.

The results of a DNA test confirmed that Mr. Torres was innocent.

But not until he had served two months in jail. No before he lost two jobs and his apartment.

Mr. Torres had never been arrested. He had a clean record. Like most folks, he just assumed that "the system" worked fairly well and he never worried about being falsely accused of a crime. No one does. That just doesn't happen to good people.

But it does happen. Our criminal (in)justice system sits logic on its head. Once you're arrested you ain't innocent unless proven guilty. No, you're guilty unless you can prove otherwise. Let's slap a high bond on you so that you can't fight your case from the outside. Let's put pressure on you to accept a deal for a crime you never committed. After all, how could the state and its allies, the black-robed prosecutors, possibly be wrong?

Mr. Torres is very fortunate. He is fortunate he is free and his case was dismissed. He is fortunate to have had  my colleague, Juan Guerra, as his attorney. He is fortunate that DNA tests were run. He is fortunate he didn't have to live the nightmare of so many other exonerees who stood and listened to juries pronounce them guilty and who sat in prison for years until someone took up their fight.

Once upon a time the grand jury system was devised as a way of protecting the reputations of those accused of crime unless there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial. Nowadays the grand jury is nothing more than a de facto division of the DA's Office who takes its marching orders from the prosecutor presenting the case.

You could argue that in this case "the system" worked as it should. Just don't try telling that to Mr. Torres.

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