Next week, the West Virginia Supreme will hear arguments in the case of Innocence Project client Joseph Buffey, who is currently serving 70 to 100 years for a 2001 rape and robbery that DNA evidence proves he did not commit. Innocence Project attorneys will argue that Buffey’s conviction should be overturned. They will present evidence showing that in 2002 the prosecution violated Buffey’s constitutional rights by offering him a plea deal when, in fact, they possessed DNA results proving his innocence, but neglected to turn over that evidence to the defense.
In 2002, at the urging of his lawyer, Buffey entered a guilty plea to raping and robbing an 83-year-old Clarksburg, Virginia, woman in her home, although he maintained his innocence. In subsequent years, the Innocence Project secured evidence which proved that Buffey was right. Not only did the organization secure DNA testing that excluded Buffey from the crime, but it also uncovered evidence that the prosecution was in possession of DNA evidence before Buffey was sentenced for the crime excluding him as the perpetrator.
Brady v. Maryland
, the prosecution is required to turn over evidence before trial that could help prove the defendant’s innocence. But, as explained in yesterday’s
New York Times
, the Buffey case is in some regards exceptional. Contrary to most states, neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the West Virginia Supreme Court have ruled whether the duty to disclose exculpatory evidence applies when there is a guilty plea.
In addition to their arguments that Buffey’s constitutional rights are grounds for reversal of Buffey’s conviction, the Innocence Project has additional evidence that Buffey was wrongfully convicted. As is highlighted in the
article, in 2012 the organization won a court order to run DNA evidence from the crime scene through the national DNA database known as CODIS. The results 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 later claimed 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.
New York Times