Joseph Buffey pleaded guilty to the 2001 rape and robbery of an 83-year-old woman based on the advice of his lawyer who told him he risked a sentence of 200 to 300 years in prison if he went to trial and was convicted. He quickly regretted his plea, but it was too late. Buffey has spent the last 13 years behind bars. Defendants in nearly 10% of the 301 DNA exonerations have pled guilty to crimes they didn’t commit.
DNA testing conducted in May 2011 excluded Buffey, and after months of resistance from the prosecution, the profile was finally run through the federal DNA database to see if it matched a convicted offender. It identified another man with multiple felony criminal convictions, including breaking into a residence and robbing and assaulting a woman.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals recently ruled that Buffey’s constitutional rights were violated by the State’s failure to turn over favorable DNA evidence, and has allowed him to withdraw his guilty plea. Further proceedings, if any, will take place after the 30-day period for the State to seek reconsideration of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Click here for the West Virginia Supreme Court’s decision.
Click here for the concurring opinion by Justice Allen H. Loughry II.
State: West Virginia
Charge: Burglary, Sexual Assault, Robbery
Conviction: Sexual assault, Robbery
Sentence: 70 to 110 years
Incident Date: 11/30/2001
Conviction Date: 05/21/2002
Accused Pleaded Guilty: Yes
Contributing Causes of Conviction: Eyewitness Misidentification
Death Penalty Case: No
Race of Defendant: Caucasian
Race of Victim: Caucasian
Alternative Perpetrator Identified: No
Type of Crime: Sex Crimes