On August 12, 2015, I read an OP-ED in the New York Times by Law Professor Julie Seaman of Emory University, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/12/opinion/when-innocence-is-no-defense.html?_r=0, the essence of which aroused in me intense feelings of frustration and outrage, to the point of tears.
In 2001 a young woman in Thunderbolt, Georgia was sexually assaulted by a burglar wearing gloves, whom she discovered upon arriving home. Subsequently, the police found stolen items in the home of Sterling Flint’s girlfriend, who told them Sterling had stated that they were his. Thereafter, Flint made a deal with the prosecutor and testified at trial that an acquaintance of his, Sandeep Bharadia gave the items to him. Flint received a 24-year sentence, and Bharadia, who maintained his innocence and claimed he was 250 miles away at the time of the crime, was sentenced to life without parole.
Mr. Bharadia’s trial attorney, for unknown reasons, did not request DNA testing of the gloves worn by the burglar-assailant, but his appellate lawyer did, as well as made a motion for a new trial. The appellate court granted the request, and the testing showed female DNA on the outside and male DNA – but not Mr. Bharadia’s – on the inside, but the appellate court declined to allow DNA testing of Flint, and no new trial occurred.
Several years later, however, the Georgia Innocence Project took up the case in 2012, and had the DNA results run through the national Codis DNA database, and scored a hit: The male DNA belonged to Flint.
Great news for Mr. Bharadia, right? WRONG! “Under Georgia precedent, a defendant is not entitled to a new trial based on new evidence if the court finds that he could have discovered the evidence at the time of the original trial, had he or his lawyer been diligent enough. Such requirements, which are common, are designed to prevent convictions from being endlessly re-examined.”
First of all, the overwhelming majority of convictions are not endlessly re-examined. And in this case if the appellate court had allowed Flint’s DNA to be tested, the result that it was his that matched the gloves would have been discovered in the first and only re-examination. So where does endlessly come into play here?
But far more importantly, while no one knows why Mr. Bharadia’s trial attorney did not request DNA testing of the subject gloves, why should a defendant be held responsible for his lawyer’s mistake? As described in my novel, Gideon’s Children, Public Defenders (and private defense counsel) when they begin practice are inexperienced, and frequently exhausted by the overwhelming caseload they do their best to handle. Maybe that was the case here, I don’t know. What I do know is that no person charged with a crime, let alone a serious one, should never be penalized for his attorney’s mistake!
I ask you, dear reader: Stop and fully concentrate on the above-described situation. Then, ask yourself how you would feel if you were in Mr. Bharadia’s shoes, having already served 12 years in prison for a crime you most probably did not commit, and now having a court agree with that proposition, but advise you that because of your attorney’s mistake, and the expediency employed by the Criminal Justice System to avoid endless re-examination of convictions, you’ll still have to spend the rest of your life in prison.
I feel confident that if you do so, you’ll join me and Lady Justice in feeling outrage so intense that it spawns tears!