Why This Exoneree and First-Time Voter Wants You to Get to the Polls
“I want people to understand that this is serious.u0022
10.26.20 By Daniele Selby
Robert DuBoise woke up early on the morning of Oct. 19, so he could get to his polling station in Hillsborough County, Florida, as soon as it opened at 7 a.m.
“I voted first thing in the morning, I made sure. I didn’t want to hesitate for a minute,” said Mr. DuBoise. “It was the first day I voted ever in my life and it felt really good.”
Mr. DuBoise had just reached voting age, 18, when he was arrested for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman in Tampa, Florida, in 1983. He maintained his innocence, but was convicted based on the testimony of an unreliable jailhouse informant and the use of bite mark analysis, a type of pseudoscience that has been discredited. The jury that convicted him recommended a life sentence, but the judge chose to sentence him to death. Mr. DuBoise, then still a young man, spent three years on death row before the Florida Supreme Court vacated his death sentence and re-sentenced him to life.
For over 36 years, Mr. DuBoise languished in prison for a crime he did not commit, until this year, when DNA testing of crime scene evidence that was previously thought to have been destroyed excluded him as the attacker. He was released in August and officially exonerated on Sept. 14.
“My priority in those first couple of weeks after I came out [of prison] was to get my driver’s license and register to vote. I did both at the same time within maybe 10 or 11 days of being free,” he said.
Growing up, Mr. DuBoise bonded with his father by watching the news and discussing politics. So the importance of voting was never lost on him and he was looking forward to exercising his right, before it was taken from him by wrongful incarceration. But his experience navigating the legal system and fighting to prove his innocence has given him a unique perspective on just how much voting in elections — particularly local elections — can affect people’s lives.
While many voters are galvanized to vote in presidential elections, Mr. DuBoise said it’s actually the vote he casts in his local elections that he believes will have the most impact.
“A lot of people don’t realize that you get to vote for your local prosecutor, and I want people to understand that this is serious,” Mr. DuBoise said. Currently, prosecutors are elected in 45 states, including Florida.
Prosecutors wield enormous power to both convict someone and to prevent wrongful conviction. They have wide discretion within the system to bring charges against someone and to choose to drop charges.
“I want people to understand that this is serious.”
“If prosecutors thoroughly scrutinize cases the police bring them and conclude that there’s not compelling or reliable evidence, then they have near-absolute authority to drop the charges — and prevent wrongful convictions before they occur,” said Nina Morrison, Senior Litigation Counsel at the Innocence Project.
“And we’ve seen the incredible powers that prosecutors have to undo wrongful convictions over the last 28 years at the Innocence Project,” she added.
It’s prosecutors that decide who will be prosecuted, what to charge them with, and what kinds of evidence they’ll offer in court to convict a person. Prosecutors also oversee the plea bargaining process. The Justice Department estimates as many as 95% of cases end in a guilty plea — meaning they never actually go to trial. But not everyone who takes a guilty plea is actually guilty. Nearly 1 in 5 known exonerees pleaded guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.