A number of former prosecutors are urging the West Virginia Supreme Court to reverse the rape and burglary conviction of Joseph Buffey. On the advice of his attorney, Buffey entered a guilty plea to the 2001 rape and burglary of an elderly Clarksburg woman, yet he has maintained that he is innocent of the crime. The Innocence Project eventually secured DNA testing that excluded Buffey and pointed to another man, Adam Bowers, who has a criminal record and who lived near the victim at the time. Although the victim always maintained that the crime was committed by a single perpetrator, the prosecution is now claiming that Buffey somehow acted in concert with Bowers. After the Clark County district court refused to overturn Buffey’s conviction, the Innocence Project appealed the case to the West Virginia Supreme Court.
During the course of its investigation, the Innocence Project also uncovered evidence that the state was in possession of DNA evidence before Buffey was sentenced for the crime excluding him as the perpetrator. The brief filed by the prosecutors urges the West Virginia Court to find that the failure of the state to turn over the exculpatory DNA test results violated Buffey’s constitutional rights and his conviction should be reversed.
While the law is clear that prosecutors must disclose all evidence pointing to a defendant’s innocence prior to trial, neither the U.S. Supreme Court or the West Virginia Supreme Court have ruled whether the duty to disclose exculpatory evidence applies when there is a guilty plea.
Paul Shechtman, Columbia Law School professor who wrote the brief for the prosecutors, told the Charlotte Gazette that the issue “is as important an unanswered question as there is in criminal procedure” because more than 90 percent of criminal cases end in plea deals.
Of the 321 people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence, 30 had entered guilty pleas.
You can read the full Charlotte Gazette article
Thank you for visiting us. You can learn more about how we consider cases here. Please avoid sharing any personal information in the comments below and join us in making this a hate-speech free and safe space for everyone.