A man who was serving 27 years to life for the drug related killing of another was freed this past week after it was discovered important evidence in his case over 21 years ago had been destroyed. Though the victim’s family is outraged, the defendant states he was innocent all along.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Northern California Innocence Project worked to have Maurice Caldwell’s conviction overturned. And they were successful. After serving about 21 years for the killing, Caldwell was granted a new trial in December after the Innocence Project successfully argued Caldwell had “ineffective counsel” at his trial in 1991.
The local prosecutor was gathering old evidence and preparing for the new trial when it was discovered some of the original evidence had been destroyed in 1995. Crime scene photos and diagrams were among those things displaced.
The missing evidence, the judge ruled, was important in ensuring Caldwell received a fair trial. Without it, the prosecution couldn’t go on and the judge determined the state of California could no longer hold him in their custody. This past week, after over 20 years, he was released.
Upon his release, Caldwell said “All the things I dreamed about when I was young, I can now bring to life.” He almost wasn’t so lucky, however. The missing evidence was largely related to the eyewitness testimony of one particular person. This person had since died of cancer.
According to the judge, her testimony was compelling and the jury believed she was telling the truth. Because the evidence was trashed and the witness was no longer available, the prosecution determined they didn’t have the evidence to move forward with another trial.
Though the victim’s family in this case is no doubt upset, the system appears to have worked. The criminal court process is built on a careful system of checks and balances, designed to ensure the constitutional rights of the defendant are protected while justice is being served. When these rights are violated or when a defendant’s access to due process is hindered, the court has a responsibility to take action to right that wrong.
Evidence, as seen here, is the crucial key in a criminal case. Physical evidence like photographs and verbal evidence like eyewitness testimony can usually mean the difference between a conviction and an acquittal. It’s the job of a defense lawyer to ensure the rules of evidence and the rights of the defendant are protected throughout the process, helping to guarantee the best results possible in court.
If you are facing criminal charges and are unsure how the evidence against you might affect your fate, contact our attorneys today for a free consultation.