According to SF Gate, a San Francisco man named Gale Joseph Young was recently freed from prison after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal determined the DNA evidence against Young was too week to sustain the conviction. After serving six years in prison for a crime that prosecutors could not prove with the weak evidence they had at trial, Young has been released on parole. Of course, he can never get those six years of his life back.
In 2008, Young was questioned by police regarding an unrelated matter. The police searched him and found nothing. However, after Young left the station, police said they found a plastic bag containing 14 grams of cocaine. They submitted the bag for DNA testing to see if they could determine who had handled (and possessed) the bag. The DNA tests came back with a result linking it to unknown women and a small fraction of the DNA matched a male. This was the evidence they had on Young.
At trial, the prosecution offered the testimony of an expert witness on the subject of DNA. That witness testified that Young could not be excluded as the person who left DNA on the bag. Certainly, Young was a male so there was some evidence and that evidence was the basis for Young’s conviction in 2012. A jury of 12 people decided that because the bag had presumably been touched by a male, that Young was a male, and that the bag was found where Young had been, Young must have been guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Young had been in jail since 2008 when he was convicted in 2012. He was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison. Fortunately for Young, the appellate court disagreed that the evidence was sufficient to sustain Young’s conviction. Fortunately the appellate court was able to review the case and apply the law that freed Young. Unfortunately, Young is another young man who is the victim of shoddy police work, an overzealous prosecutor, a judge who allowed this weak evidence to be offered and a jury who though this was enough to convict him.
The war on drugs has proven to not only be a complete failure but has resulted in the use of police power to detain and convict individuals for drug related crimes. There are approximately 1.5 million people in prison due to drug crimes in the Unites States according to DrugWarFacts.org. One can only wonder how many of those serving lengthy prison sentences have been convicted using shoddy evidence like the evidence used to convict Young.
Individuals who are convicted of crimes have the right to their first level appeal of the matter to be paid for by the state if they cannot afford to hire an attorney. Individuals who lose at trial should almost always file a Notice of Appeal to preserve the issues that were raised at trial for the appellate attorney to argue in front of the Court of Appeal. While Appellate victories are far more rare than trial court victories, because of the standards on appeal and the laws the apply, it is almost always a good idea to have an appellate attorney evaluate the case to see if there were errors of law made. Sometimes those errors might be made by the judge, the prosecutor, or the defense attorney. In other cases, the judge may provide incorrect law to the jury or incorrectly apply the law to defense motions or sentencing. In some cases, a motion for a new trial may be the right procedure to take prior to an appeal or the appeal may be the only way to go.