Los Angeles, California: A Latino teen from East Lost Angeles, Mario Rocha, was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder. Rocha was tried as an adult and was sentenced to life in prison. But was he actually guilty? He attended a party in Holland Park, California where a young man was shot and killed, another, injured. During his trial, his attorney had done an inadequate amount of investigation to be able to defend Rocha. He only interviewed one witness. Rocha was sentenced because of the testimony given by this witness. In future investigations, this testimony was proven to have false content. Evidence later showed that Rocha was, in fact, innocent. Rocha spent over ten years in prison fighting for his innocence and his life. During those ten years, a social worker and a group of attorneys decided to pick up Rocha’s case. After years of investigations, trials and tribulations, Rocha was acquitted of all charges due to an insufficient amount of evidence against him. An innocent man was set free after ten years of false imprisonment.
Student Researcher: Gabriel Rodriguez, Indian River State College Faculty Researcher: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College Source:
Maroof Haque, From Life Sentence to Liberation: Mario Rocha Shares His Experience of Injustice, Daily Gazzett, Swarthmore College, Nov. 29, 2011
“Innocent until proven guilty” is a legal right of the accused. In the case of Mario Rocha, not only was his original attorney morally and professionally inept, but so was the Judge. Rocha suffered over ten years in prison where he was stabbed multiple times. After an investigation was made into the conduct of the attorney, it was found out that he did not start his case work until a few weeks before the trial. He only interviewed one witness, the one that testified against Rocha.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that the accused has a right to obtain a witness in his favor. The attorney had a duty to gather up enough evidence to prove Rocha’s innocence. When he failed to do so, he put Rocha’s freedom in jeopardy. When the attorney does not complete his duties, he is preventing his client from having a fair trial. The law states that the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused is in fact guilty. If there is a reasonable doubt, then the accused is supposed to be acquitted of all charges. If the only evidence the prosecution had was one witness, who was later proven to be unreliable, why was Rocha not acquitted in the first trial? The judge had a responsibility to see these facts and make a decision in Rocha’s favor. Instead he sentenced Rocha to life in prison. This is only one of the hundreds of cases where someone was falsely prosecuted. The state should not have the power to take a person’s freedom when all the facts are not known.
Mario Rocha was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. Any of us can be in that situation. Someone convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murder has less than one percent of a chance to later be acquitted of the crime. Given cases like this, can we truly trust the government with our freedom? If we imprison innocent people for years, does that make us better than the countries that cut off the hands of those who steal?
It took the criminal justice system ten years to give Rocha a new trial. Even with all the
new evidence that was appearing, the new witnesses, testimonies and demonstrations, it still took the government a decade to make an attempt to free Rocha.
Having the attorney do a full investigation; the judge and jury realize that there was not sufficient evidence against him; and the witness provide accurate testimony, would have changed the outcome of this trial. The state has an obligation to convict those who are guilty and protect those who are not. In, this case, it failed.