Man Who Was Wrongfully Imprisoned For 8 Years Overturned His Own Conviction And Became A Lawyer
A man who was wrongly imprisoned for sexual assault aged 17 managed to overturn his conviction and now works as a defence lawyer to free other people who have been wrongly convicted.
Jarrett Adams, from Chicago, was accused of rape after attending a party at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 1998.
A witness statement contradicted the claims of the accuser, but Adams and his two of friends were arrested and charged with sexual assault.
Adams told CNN the three men were ‘totally innocent’, but he realised it had ‘nothing to do with the truth’, and said instead the accusation was ‘about race’.
We were all Black and we were accused by a White girl of rape, so no matter what we said we were never going to be believed. Never.
The teen attended court in Wisconsin, where 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults. During the trial, the testimony of the accuser ‘dramatically changed’ and it resulted in a mistrial. The court called for a re-trial, during which Adams’ public defender called for a ‘no defense theory’, which prevented the use of witness statements.
Adams described the strategy as ‘illogical’, and it resulted in him being found guilty. One of the other men who had been charged had been able to afford a private attorney, and never spent a day in prison. He had his charges dismissed after police turned over an important witness statement.
That decision not to join in that motion cost me almost a decade in my life. We’re talking about the same case, being accused by the same person, and the difference was having an adequate defense. When you want to talk about the flaws and the problems wrong with the criminal justice system, that’s a direct example right there.
Adams and the third man who had been accused were both sentenced to 20 years in a maximum-security prison, but the judge gave Adams an additional eight years because he refused to apologise ‘for a rape that never happened’.
After a year and a half behind bars, Adams’ cellmate encouraged him to go to the law library and learn about why his own defense failed him. He learned that his public defender violated his rights by failing to locate and call a known witness.
Everyone has a constitutional right to an effective attorney. And so therefore, my constitutional right was violated by not having an effective attorney.
Using newspapers he had access to in prison, Adams identified attorneys litigating cases that could support his argument and managed to work with one to begin drafting a habeas petition. In 2004, Adams’ case was taken on by the Innocence Project, who told him they didn’t understand ‘how on Earth you are in here with 28 years’.
Eight years after his arrest, the Innocence Project argued Adams’ case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. The court unanimously overturned Adams’ conviction on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, and in February 2007 he had all charges against him dismissed.
Following his release, Adams enrolled in college and received his associate’s degree, followed by a bachelor’s in criminal law. In May 2015 he graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and went on to be hired by the Innocence Project.
He now works for his own private practice and uses his power as a lawyer to prevent people facing the same fate he did.
Adams told CNN:
To be able to go back in a courtroom in the same state in which I was wrongfully convicted, and them now having to address me as an attorney, it gives you a sense of, ‘I am human. I am human, and respect me as such.’
I strongly believe that the problems with our criminal justice system will only get better when we infiltrate the system, meaning more Black judges, more Black prosecutors, more Black, young Black attorneys, like young Black knowledgeable, powerful young men changing the stereotype that we’ve had to deal with forever.
That’s what we need, and I’m hoping my story will go to that movement.
Adams has helped overturn a number of cases in court, including the wrongful imprisonment of Kevin Bailey, who served nearly 30 years of an 80-year sentence for a murder in 1989 he did not commit, and of Richard Beranek, who was wrongly convicted of sexual assault in 1990.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org/talk
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