What should a District Attorney do when the courts say a defendant is innocent and thus entitled to compensation? In this case the DA's own office decided they don't have enough evidence for a re-trial. If innocence is not 100% certain, but guilt cannot be proven, should the DA sign a letter confirming the exonerated status of the defendant so they can be compensated? Are DAs who won't do so sticking by their guns, or just sore losers?
By declining to retry 25-year-old Brandy Del Briggs in the death of her 2-month-old baby, Daniel, in 1999, Harris County prosecutors have admitted their evidence is inadequate to convict her. As the American legal system rests on the concept of being not guilty until so proved, that makes Briggs an innocent woman.
A state law mandating $25,000 compensation for every year served in prison to wrongfully convicted people requires that the district attorney whose prosecutors won the original conviction sign a letter affirming the ex-convict's innocence. Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has indicated he continues to doubt the innocence of Briggs, who agreed to plead guilty to injury to a child to avoid the more serious charge of murder.
"It's not a situation where I can say she's completely innocent," Rosenthal said. "It's a situation where we can't prove our case." That sentiment is not far from declaring he believes she is guilty until proved innocent.
Briggs was sentenced to 17 years and served five before a new attorney took up the case and appealed, resulting in her conviction being overturned. She claimed she made the admission of guilt on the advice of a lawyer who told her she did not have enough money to fully contest the murder charge.
I'm interested in readers' opinions, but I think the Chronicle put it rightly: "Rosenthal would only enhance the stature of his office by issuing a letter stating the obvious: There is insufficient evidence to prove Briggs committed a crime, and she is innocent under the law," they wrote. "Case closed."
Via Steve Hall