Cal. Litig. 2020, Volume 33, Number 3

The Guy Miles Case – Race and a Wrongful Conviction

By Alissa Bjerkhoel

Alissa Bjerkhoel is an attorney at the California Innocence Project. She coordinates case litigation, serves as the in-house DNA expert, and directs and supervises clinical casework. She is a Fellow of the AAFS and serves on several Innocence Network committees. She has appeared on television shows, podcasts, and was portrayed in the feature film "Brian Banks."

It has long been held that "[t]he vagaries of eyewitness identification are well known and the annals of criminal law are rife with instances of mistaken identification." (United States v. Wade (1967) 388 U.S. 218, 228.) Unintentional misidentifications of suspects account for approximately a third of exonerations. (Jackson & Gross (2016) Tainted Identifications.) Witnesses often make mistakes when they are asked to make an identification, and they are even worse where the eyewitness is a different race than the perpetrator. Cross-racial identifications, or identifications made by witnesses who identify a perpetrator from a different race, have around a 50% greater chance of error than identifications in which the witness and perpetrator are of the same race. (Connelly, Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States (2015) Mich. J. of Race & Law, p. 126.) Guy Miles’s case was no exception.

The crime in Guy’s case was relatively simple: Two armed black men (one stocky and one skinny) committed an armed robbery of a Fidelity Financial Institution in a strip mall at closing time when only two employees were present. A third man, the getaway driver, was in the parking lot. They absconded with only $400 and a bunch of checks they would never be able to cash. Inexplicably, during the robbery, the getaway driver decided to go shopping for car parts in the neighboring auto store; he had an auto loan with Fidelity on the very same car, which made it easy for police to connect him to the robbery. Without this slip-up, it is unlikely the crime would have ever been solved.

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