Justice at Last for Richard Beranek

 Exoneree Richard Beranek

Exoneree Richard Beranek

Last Friday brought some much-needed and long-overdue news to Richard Beranek, whose case I worked on: All charges that led to his wrongful conviction would finally be dropped

Richard served 23 years in a Wisconsin prison for a rape that he did not commit. His conviction was based largely on faulty eyewitness testimony and the debunked technique of microscopic hair analysis. DNA test results from hair and semen recovered from the crime scene did not match Richard’s, thus supporting what Richard has maintained for over two decades: he is an innocent man.  

His case is yet another textbook example of flawed investigative and prosecutorial practices that are the culprits in an increasingly documented number of wrongful conviction cases nationwide. At minimum, 70 people have been exonerated after DNA testing proved that erroneous hair analyses led to wrongful convictions. In Wisconsin alone, the FBI has identified 13 cases in which this junk science was used to secure convictions. This is horrifying because there may be as many, if not more, than 13 men and women in the state who are serving prison sentences for someone else’s crime.  

Eyewitness misidentification is a leading contributor to wrongful conviction, having played a role in roughly a third of the documented cases throughout the country. 

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to review the many cases involving flawed hair analysis and to pass laws requiring police departments to use eyewitness identification practices that make misidentification less likely.

Richard’s case is very personal for me, not just because I was part of his team of attorneys, but because he and I were wrongfully convicted of similar crimes, in the same state, and served time in the same prison. We understand the desolation caused by wrongful incarceration and the feeling that our claims of innocence have fallen on deaf ears. Fortunately, neither of us gave up, and our cases caught the attention of some of the same talented attorneys who helped secure our freedom. 

I wish Richard well in this next chapter of his life and am hopeful that he gets the support from the State that will be necessary for him to re-adjust to a world that was stolen from him for so many years. 

It was an honor and a privilege to work on this case with so many accomplished and inspiring men and women, among them Bryce Benjet, Keith Findley, Peter Neufeld, Cristina Borde, Dean Strang, Hayato Watanabe, Heather McCarthy, Max Gallo, Marissa Goldstein and Karen Wolf. 




In California and nationwide: Take the time to be a part of the movement

The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP), one of the preeminent organizations fighting wrongful conviction, was kind enough to invite me to its annual Justice for All Gala last week. I was honored to receive the Cookie Ridolfi Freedom Award for my legal work and activism.

Investing in Education is an Investment in Our Future

This week I had the privilege of speaking at Hillsborough Community College’s annual Black, Brown and College Bound Summit, in Tampa Bay. Each year, the event is held to highlight the importance of higher education, but also to address and discuss barriers that can prevent young people from going to college and getting a degree. 

Equal Access to Education a Civil Rights Issue

It's March Madness time, and I'm sure that if any of you are like me, you've been trying to get in as many games as is possible. It's hard to ignore, though, that, while people of color make up the vast majority of NCAA basketball and other sports teams, black and brown people are woefully underrepresented in the classrooms of colleges across the nation. 

In Chicago, Pursuing the "Righteous Path"

Last weekend, while in town for a court appearance and for a speaking engagement at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, I had the pleasure of talking with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell and being featured in her Sunday column. We had a wide-ranging conversation spanning the details of my wrongful conviction, how and why I decided to become an attorney, and the creation of my law firm.