Kalief Browder, a Bronx, N.Y. native, was only 16-years-old when cops unexpectedly showed up and stripped him of his liberty while he was walking home from a party. A person who Browder never met before accused him of robbery. Browder’s nightmare began.
The teen spent the next three years jailed on Rikers Island. Neither he nor his family were able to post the $10,000 bond set in his case. Browder’s attorney said that the whole case hinged exclusively on the word of the alleged victim who was pointing his finger at the teen. Apparently, the alleged victim approached cops two weeks after he was robbed and claimed, “That kid did it.” Based solely on that evidence, cops went into action and arrested Browder.
At one court appearance during his three year ordeal, Browder was threatened by the judge that if he didn’t take the plea offer, he’d receive a 15-year prison sentence after conviction. Not surprisingly, Browder became desperate and suicidal, after multiple court appearances with no resolution in site.
33 months later, a miracle happened. Prosecutors chose to drop charges. No hugs, no apology, no nothing. He was finally free.
Browder isn’t waiting for that apology. He’s suing whoever he can who he deems responsible for this. He’s bitter, after being locked away in a notoriously violent prison for close to three of his teenage years for a crime he didn’t commit. He knows that regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome, he will never get to go to prom and/or high school graduation. Those years of his life were lost.
Here’s my take on this case. First, many are probably yelling, “How can they have arrested him solely based on the word of one person?” That part doesn’t surprise or concern me. It happens frequently. The law doesn’t mandate a requisite number of people witnessing a crime before someone is arrested. If that were the case then anyone who was robbed would never get their day in court, assuming the bad guy was smart enough to commit the offense without witnesses other than the victim. The issue is how credible the sole alleged victim is.
A bigger issue for me was the fact that he remained in jail for thirty-three months with such scant evidence. If I was representing this teenager, I would have been back in front of the judge frequently, pleading for him to lower the bond. One of the factors that the judge must consider is how strong the evidence is. Obviously, a defendant is more likely to flee the jurisdiction if he has a “slam dunk” case against him. Conversely, a case with only one eye witness, the alleged victim, who fingers the teen two weeks after the crime is committed, is a very weak case. It’s no surprise the prosecutors ultimately dropped the charge. A judge should have considered that and reduced the bond or, alternatively, released him on house arrest. He wasn’t going anywhere with such a weak case. Assuming his attorney did passionately attempt to secure his release on numerous occasions, then I blame the judge and/or prosecutors for not agreeing to his release.
Overall, this case reminds us that a miscarriage of justice can and will happen at any time. The Criminal Justice System, while the best in the world, is fallible. This one shouldn’t have happened.