In 1970, at 14 years old and a young black boy with no criminal record, Barney was detained after a car in which he was a passenger was pulled over. His parents were not notified. He was then transferred to Miami on charges of raping and robbing a white woman.
After several lineups, the victim could not identify him as the perpetrator. Despite this fact, the police pressed forward and brutalized Barney during interrogations, even irreparably damaging one of his eyes.
Prosecutors also pressed on and tried Barney as a juvenile. With the victim unable to make the identification, the judge entered an acquittal and ordered his case dismissed. Not satisfied, the prosecutors then did the following:
Barney’s nightmare should have ended there, but it didn’t. Despite his acquittal in juvenile court, the prosecutor retried him in adult court and asked for the death penalty, which was permissible at the time. Barney again pled not guilty, despite the fact that the prosecution offered him three years in a juvenile facility in exchange for a guilty plea.
When Barney’s mother heard about the prosecutors’ deal, she begged him to accept it. But Barney couldn’t do it. “Maybe I could lie about other things,” Barney told me matter of factly, “but I couldn’t lie against myself.”
Barney was convicted. Because the State sought the death penalty 9which was allowed for rapes at that time) the jury, by a vote 7-5, spared Barney’s life. Instead of meeting Old Sparky, Barney was sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Now it doesn’t take a law scholar or Supreme Court justice to see the obvious problem with all of this. The Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution strictly prohibits individuals from being tried for the same crime twice. After hsi juvenile acquittal, the state was actually barred from trying him as an adult.
What is even more unbelievable is how long it took until a court actually took notice of this grievous constitutional violation and rectified it:
Though it took almost 40 years, the truth eventually prevailed. After decades of trying to prove his innocence, lawyers Benedict Kuehne and Susan Dmitrovsky took his case before Judge Antonio Marin of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court.In an opinion that probably every person who has ever thought about going to law school would wish they could write, Judge Marin ordered Barney’sconviction to “be vacated and the defendant discharged from all liability for the charged offense.”
“This case,” Judge Marin ruled, “presents a clear example of a grievous constitutional double jeopardy violation[.] As a result of this clear constitutional maxim, Mr. Brown should have never been forced to defend himself against the same rape and robbery charges a second time. His life sentences for the 1970 adult court convictions should have never happened. His incarceration within Florida’s prison system for most of his adult life should not have taken place.”
When news of Barney’s exoneration reached the prison on the evening of September 24, 2008, their reaction was unfortunately typical of many wrongfully convicted people. Prison officials simply released him into the dark, rainy night with no one there to meet him and nowhere to go.
I met Barney Brown, 38 years after his wrongful incarceration began, in March at the Innocence Network soon after he was released. He is a wonderful guy, who is going to do great things with the rest of the time he has here on Earth.