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Wrongful Incarcerations in Los Angles County Jail


According to a report in the Los Angeles Times on Christmas Day, hundreds of people have been wrongly incarcerated in Los Angeles County Jail over the course of the last five years. The number of wrongful jail terms has been placed at 1,480 during that period.

Some people have spent weeks behind bars before the authorities realized that they were mistaken for wanted criminals. Many of those held behind bars were mistaken for criminals because of a variety of factors including overlooking fingerprint evidence and poor record keeping. The problem involves the police arresting the wrong people based on warrants issued by judges that do not precisely identify the right person. The sherriff's department then fail to correct the error by keeping people for days, sometimes weeks before realizing that they have the wrong person in custody.

Sherriff's officials asserted that they are bombarded by claims of innocence and it would be impossible to check every claim expeditiously.

For those who are jailed, the experience can lead to loss of employment, embarrassment, stress, and injury from assault by other inmates or jailers. The experience can be long and harrowing.

Errors in the system do not always result from mistaken identity. I once had a client who had paid his fine for a DUI conviction by mailing his check to the court. He was stopped by the police for a traffic infraction some months later and was arrested on a warrant issued by the court for non-payment of his fine. The traffic stop was on a friday and he was not produced in court until the following monday. When his case was called in Metropolitan Court on monday morning, it was discovered that his check had been received by the court but was still sitting in his file. The court clerks office had failed to bank his check. My client spent three nights in jail as a result of an error by a court clerk. He did not receive any apology from the judge who simply ordered him released without any further comment.

Most law abiding citizens support the police and the criminal justice system. Penalties for DUI in California are increasing every year and in a tough economy, many people are struggling to pay their fines and complete their programs leading to warrants issued for probation violations. However, it comes as a big surprise to people when they are wrongfully arrested and incarcerated because of mistaken identity or faulty paperwork. Until the system is improved, perhaps we should take a step back before supporting any further increases in penalties for DUI and other criminal offenses.

Gold & Witham is a law firm dedicated to the defense of DUI cases in Los Angeles and Orange County.