Guilt by association, where I discussed two defendants in two different cases who were convicted not for what they did, but for what their roommates did. One of those defendants was Cham Omot, who was convicted of a felony drug crime because his roommate had marijuana in his (the roommate’s) dresser drawer. Then, on appeal, the rarest of events occurred: The appellate court reversed the conviction because, even after giving the state every benefit and every inference, there simply was no evidence whatsoever to support the jury’s guilty verdict.
To most of us, Mr. Omot was just another faceless defendant who had been ground-up in the criminal justice system and wrongfully convicted. However, from my perspective Mr. Omot “came to life” when I got a letter from Tyler Wickman, the outstanding appellate attorney who won Omot’s appeal.
With Attorney Wickman’s permission, I reprint portions of his letter, below:
Dear Atty. Cicchini:
Nice blog on Cham Omot’s case. I did the appeal for him. . . . I thought you would find it interesting that before doing a post-conviction motion, I wrote letters to every juror to see if they would talk to me about the trial. I wanted their perspective for the appeal. Not all contacted me, but one juror, in hindsight, believed she made the wrong decision and would have acquitted now. . . . Others [believed] he had to have helped his roommate.
Omot served his complete sentence . . . then ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] picked him up and almost deported him to the Sudan (Omot came over to the U.S. as a child due to his village being destroyed and was taken in by a foster family). Thankfully, he was not deported and he believes these acquittals will greatly improve his immigration issues. He is back living with his foster parents, employed, and appears to be on a good track. Last I spoke to him he was signing up for college.
I wish some prosecutors would remember their job is to seek justice, not convictions.
Yes, that would be nice. But unfortunately, as Mr. Omot and Attorney Wickman know firsthand (and as I wrote about, here) sometimes the prosecutorial lust for convictions gets in the way of justice. And perhaps the bigger failure lies with the judge, for not acting as a check on prosecutorial power by dismissing the case, or with the jury, for returning the guilty verdict with no evidence. (I wish each juror would realize that it could very easily be him or her, instead of the defendant, sitting at the defense table.)
In the meantime, though, the criminal justice system continues to churn.