How Did I Get Here?
Imagine sitting in a jail cell, wondering, “How in the world did I get here?” Up until now your worst offense has been being rolling through a stop sign or going too fast on the freeway. You know you didn’t do what the police claim; the question is, how to prove it?
That’s how it felt to be Billy.
It was not Billy’s first run in with police. In fact, he had earned the nickname “Billy Flee” in the small rural police department because whenever he saw a cop, he ran away on principle.
Recently, Billy was arrested for burglary. After viewing surveillance video from the victim’s home, a “witness” stated he recognized Billy as one of the suspects. Billy, however, claimed to have an alibi: he couldn’t have burglarized the home because he was busy buying drugs.
His habits are not to be admired, but at least he’s honest.
The case hinged on a forensic analysis of the surveillance video evidence. Was Billy in the surveillance video, or is this a case of mistaken identity and unjustified arrest?
Fortunately, Billy’s public defender had time to help him. The attorney sent video evidence and reports to be analyzed by a forensic video expert.
The evidence consisted of 6 videos and a still image from the home owner’s surveillance system. This still image was, according to the DA, Billy. Upon analyzing the evidence, the forensic expert discovered an inconsistency; the screenshot of the suspect was from a video not provided to the defense in discovery. In other words, a video was missing, having either been lost or withheld. Either way, someone dropped the ball.
When informed of the situation, Billy’s attorney immediately filed a motion with the court to compel the DA to turn over all video and still image evidence related to the case. The evidence turned over was astonishing: an additional nine videos, including the “missing” video. Now, one may think that this would clarify the case details, but you’d be wrong.
This new evidence included surveillance video from a separate burglary in the same home, and because there were no time stamps visible, it could not be determined which videos went to which robbery.
While motions and evidence were going back and forth, Billy was languishing in jail. But when the defense attorney confronted the DA on the confusing nature of these newly disclosed videos, the DA realized his evidence was flawed.
Billy was immediately released from jail, and the DA tried to save his case.
Here’s what the DA knew: somewhere between two and four people committed two burglaries in the same home on two different dates. What the DA did not know was the identity of any of the suspects or which suspect committed which burglary on which date. The result of this bungling of evidence was that within two weeks the DA dropped all charges against Billy and announced a nolle prosse (indicating he would not seek to prosecute him in the future for either burglary)!
Poor Billy sat indefinitely in jail even though the DA was unclear on the facts of the case. Once the DA was forced to take a closer look at the video and still image evidence, he realized he had to dismiss the charges. Had the defense attorney not had the evidence analyzed by an experienced forensic expert, Billy probably would have stayed in jail until trial. Or worse, the flawed evidence may have been used to convict him of a crime for which he was innocent.
Run on, Billy (just not from the police).