Trials and Verdicts, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Abstract

The issue of American wrongful convictions and later exonerations of convicts is a serious one, as it points to miscarriage of justice occurring far too frequently in the United States; even one case of miscarriage of justice is is one too many, as it points to a flaw in the American justice system that an innocent person can be convicted and coerced into pleading guilty rather than standing trial. The cases of Darrell Wayne Bivens, Jr., Sherri Frederick, and Israel Fuentes are all such examples. Within the last five years, each of the aforementioned was wrongly accused and later vindicated, accepted a plea bargain instead of a trial, and experienced (miscarriage of) justice in more than one court. In this paper, I will more closely examine that cases of each and show how the courts did or did not act in the best interest of the accused, and what the details were concerning the process.

Darrell Wayne Bivens, Jr.

On April 19, 2012, Bivens was arrested on the grounds of failing to register as a sex offender due to an earlier crime where he was convicted- as an adult- of a sexual offense involving a child. His case was handled, at first, by the Collins County Courts in Collins County, Texas, where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison on the date of January 10, 2013. He was convicted and sentenced because under Texas law, an adult who commits a sexually violent offense and fails to register as a sex offender can be convicted for that. The courts, taking into account that Bivens had failed to register as a sex offender, acted correctly when they saw the law had been ignored by Bivens.

There is responsibility on the sides of both the prosecution and the defense. The former, when bringing a charge against a person, must be able to prove in a court of law that the accused failed to adhere to a law, and the latter, if fighting the charge, must be able to show that he or she did not commit the crime of which they are being accused.

In the case of Bivens, however, it was the courts who had erred. When Bivens committed, and was convicted of, the sexually violent offense, he was only 17 years of age and not considered an adult in the state of Texas. As a result, he was under no legal obligation to register as a sex offender. Although Bivens had pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced, the Collins County District Attorney’s office recognized the fact that he was not a legal adult at the time he committed his sexually violent offense, and therefore not liable to be held to the crime of failing to register as a sex offender.

His case went to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals where Bivens’s conviction was vacated and the prosecution withdrew on the same day (National Registry of Exonerations).

Sherri Frederick

Sherri Frederick was a 33-year-old woman at the time of her conviction. She was arrested and charged with possession of crack cocaine, a crime in Texas that is punishable by law. The allegations brought against her by police were that she had in her possession .27 grams of crack cocaine at the time of the arrest. Instead of going on trial, Frederick pleaded guilty to the charge on the date of October 1, 2010, and was sentenced to six months in jail. Five months after she was arrested, laboratory testing showed that there were no narcotics on the substance police said was on her at the time of the arrest. One month after that, she was released from jail but she had spent six months in jail- the length of her original sentence.

In this case, it does not appear as though justice has been rightfully served for a number of reasons. Laboratory testing, which definitively ruled out that Frederick had narcotics on the item with her at the time of her arrest, should have been done before she was sentenced so that she would not have been needlessly convicted. Further, the amount of time she spent in jail was equal to her sentence at the time of her conviction. If justice had been served, the time she had spent in jail should have at least been less than the sentence. Because she spent six months in jail, she had served the length of the sentence for someone who would have been rightfully convicted.

A year after she was released in jail, Frederick filed for, and received, $40,000 as compensation for having served time in jail for a crime she did not commit. This is a small bit of justice, but it cannot- and does not- undo the wrongful imprisonment.

Israel Fuentes

Fuentes was (wrongfully, but not known at the time) convicted of selling cocaine to an undercover police officer. The 19-year-old was arrested on January 8, 2013 and pleaded guilty April 11, 2013. There was no crime laboratory analysis that occurred before Fuentes pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to five years in prison. He also had a deferred adjudication that was revoked and received another five year sentence. Fuentes was to serve both five-year sentences concurrently.

A key aspect of Fuentes’s case was that he pleaded guilty before crime laboratory analysis had taken place. Crime lab analysis eventually did take place, but it was a month later after he had pleaded guilty, in May 2013. The analysis showed that the substance which Fuentes sold the undercover police officer had no traces of narcotics on it. Had Fuentes waited for the results of the crime lab analysis before pleading guilty, he probably would not have been sentence. What is interesting, however, was that he did plead guilty which implies that he had intended to, and thought he had, sold cocaine to a person he did not know to be an undercover police officer; another possibility is that he had intended the buyer to think that he was purchasing cocaine when Fuentes knew that he did not have cocaine. However, the fact that Fuentes pleaded guilty more likely points to the fact that Fuentes had been intending to sell cocaine and did not know that the substance he sold was not a narcotic. In his case, he caught a lucky break with crime lab analysis showing that the sold substance was not a narcotic.

Fuentes had pleaded guilty in the Montgomery County Criminal Court District and had his case dismissed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on June 26, 2013.

References

Udashen, G.A. (2011, December). Post Conviction DNA and Actual Innocence. Paper presented at the State Bar of Texas “Making or Breaking Your Case: The Role of Forensic Evidence, Irving, Texas.

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. (2012). “On Application for a Writ of Habeus Corpus

Cause No. 296-81350-2012.” Retrieved from http://www.cca.courts.state.tx.us/OPINIONS/HTMLOPINIONINFO.ASP?OPINIONID=23938

The National Registry of Exonerations. (2013). Israel Fuentes. Retrieved from http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=4209

The National Registry of Exonerations. (2013). Sherri Frederick. Retrieved from http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=4022

The National Registry of Exonerations. (2013). Darrell Wayne Bivens, Jr. Retrieved from http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=4146.

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