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More on CJ Rice's Case

More on CJ Rice's Case
"Rice... had what should have been strong arguments in his defense - medical incapacity, a dubious identification, no physical evidence linking him to the crime. The strong arguments proved unavailing."

Two primary factors contributed to the wrongful conviction of CJ Rice, pictured above with his current legal team, in 2013: a mistaken eyewitness identification and the ineffective assistance of his counsel. His co-defendant, Tyler Linder, was also mistakenly identified by a witness; however, the evidence against both defendants was so slim that Linder, with a different attorney representing him, was acquitted of all charges. Meanwhile, Rice was found guilty and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Read more about the case here.

Mistaken witness identification is a factor known to contribute to about one quarter of wrongful convictions nationwide. According to statistics from the National Registry of Exonerations, the problem is even more prevalent in cases of wrongful conviction resulting in the exoneration of people convicted in Pennsylvania: witness misidentification has played a role in 33% of more than 130 wrongful convictions in the Commonalth since tracking began in 1989.

Even more concerning, inadequate legal defense has played a role in the wrongful conviction of 27% of cases nationwide, while this rate in the Commonwealth has soared to 41%.

And, as staggering as that 41% is, it likely under-reports the problem. Pennsylvania presents a particularly adversarial landscape for clients like CJ seeking post-conviction relief. Defendants must usually raise claims of the ineffectiveness of their trial counsel in their very first Post Conviction Relief Act petition, which must be filed within one year of when their conviction becomes final. Most individuals who write ot the Project for help were convicted decades ago, making it impossible for us to raise these claims. If these barriers were not in place, we likely would see even more Pennsylvania convictions overturned due to inadequate legal defense.

Thus, the problems at CJ Rice's trial and the obstacles he faced to proving his innocence are unfortunately commonplace in our state.
"There is certainly reasonable doubt - an excess of reasonable doubt - that Rice committed the crimes of which he was accused. But what happened after that night is not open to argument: Rice lacked legal representation worthy of the name. And as he has discovered, the law provides littler recourse for those undermined by a lawyer."

We are grateful that, due to the leadership of Governor Josh Shapiro, Senators Vincent Hughes and Lisa Baker, and Representative Napoleon Nelson, Pennsylvania is taking steps to fix this problem, with the passage in 2023 of the first statewide funding for indigent defense in the Commonwealth. Learn more here. As Senator Hughes has recognized, this is a first step, and we have a long way to go.

Fortunately, the national attention that CJ Rice's case has garnered, in large part due to his lifelong friendship with his pediatrician Dr. Theodore Tapper, and his son, journalist Jake Tapper of CNN, will continue to shine a light on this important issue and other factors that contribute to wrongful convictions. You can read and watch in-depth analysis of CJ's case at the following links:

Jake Tapper in The Atlantic, October 2022*

Counsel for CJ Rice appear with Jake Tapper on CNN, November 2023

CNN on CJ Rice's exoneration, March 2024

Philadelphia Inquirer on CJ Rice's exoneration, March 2024

NY Times on CJ Rice's exoneration, March 2024

WHYY on CJ Rice's exoneration, March 2024

CBS News on CJ Rice's exoneration, March 2024

CBS Mornings clip, March 2024

Jake Tapper's update in The Atlantic, March 2024

Fox29 on CJ Rice's exoneration, March 2024

From the District Attorney, March 2024, press release and press conference

Courthouse News on CJ Rice's exoneration, March 2024

Counsel and CJ Rice appear with Jake Tapper on CNN, March 2024

To read about other Project cases involving egregious trial representation, browse our profiles on Donte Rollins, Dontia Patterson, and Larry Trent Roberts. We look forward to working with Pennsylvania's newly established Indigent Defence Advisory Committee to put better systems in place.

*The quotes above are taken from Jake Tapper's piece in The Atlantic in October of 2022, shortly before CJ filed the federal habeas petition that would ultimately bring him home.

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