A 26-year old man is now free to return home after serving seven months on Riker’s Island for a crime he didn’t commit. He was held because witnesses picked him out of a line-up, despite his alibi and no physical evidence linking him to a crime. Though his jail stint is evidence of a serious problem, there’s no word from the NYPD or the prosecutor that any mistakes were made.
Lanell Dowling was with his girlfriend the night a woman was robbed in Brooklyn. A police sketch was drawn and a tipster called in to say the drawing resembled Dowling.
The police arrested Dowling and took him to the precinct for a line up. Four mugging victims picked him out of a line-up and he was booked and charged with four robberies. His bail was set at $100,000, an amount his family could not afford. So he sat in jail, for seven entire months.
Dowling’s bail was reduced to $20,000 and he was able to leave jail. Though the victims refused to speak with his attorney, the defense was able to show that text messages and MySpace postings reflected Dowling could not have committed the crimes in question. Just this week all charges against him were dropped.
Eyewitness identification is often flawed despite the witness’ certainty that they have fingered the “right” person. In DNA exonerations, flawed witness identification plays a role about 75% of the time. But despite the knowledge of shortcomings in witness identification, police and prosecutors alike still lend it far too much credibility.
Had Dowling actually committed the robberies on that night, a $100,000 wouldn’t have been unreasonable. But holding him pretrial with nothing more than the line-up as evidence seemed to be a rush to judgment on the part of the prosecution.
Being wrongfully convicted of a crime happens. Not often, but it happens. Being wrongfully accused of a crime also happens, perhaps far more frequently. This is because when someone is accused of a crime they didn’t commit, their attorney works hard to ensure they aren’t penalized for the offense and that they aren’t later counted as one of the “wrongfully convicted”.
Eyewitness identification isn’t consistently reliable and this is just one aspect of Dowling’s case that would have no doubt been explored at trial, had it made it that far. But without any other evidence of his guilt, the prosecution could not build an entire case.
If you’ve been accused of something you didn’t do, a criminal defense attorney can help. Contact our attorneys today to discuss your case and the options available to you.