by Ed Lyon
On April 11, 2019, Ohio police executed an arrest warrant for heroin trafficking in a Target parking lot in Hamilton County. Their target was Ashley Foster, who was in the lot not with a load of heroin but with her two sons – one of whom was only eight weeks old.
Because the warrant originated in another county, local cops never bothered to check its veracity or facts. The address the officers had on the warrant was not the same as Foster’s. She was held in jail incommunicado for five days, never even being told why she was arrested or the charges against her.
In the meantime, Ohio Family Services (OFS) had taken her children. Adding to her troubles, Foster was fired from her job while incarcerated.
Upon her arrival in Brown County, the warrant’s issuing jurisdiction, she was finally interviewed by an officer. It did not take long to determine she had been falsely arrested, as she was not the same person named in the warrant.
Released without so much as an apology, it was up to Foster to undo the catastrophic damage to her life that the incident had caused. Despite the fact of Foster’s false arrest, she still had to prove her fitness as a parent before her children were returned. Part of that process was to allow an OFS worker to audit her home. Whether Foster managed to get her job back was not reported.
From this snapshot of the damage Foster suffered from her brief stint in jail, a much broader picture emerges. People like her immediately lose the ability to care for their children and maintain their employment. Unable to effectively communicate with anyone outside of jail, pretrial detainees cannot effectively challenge their arrests. Data compiled on pretrial detention show positive correlations linking it to subsequent convictions with correspondingly longer sentences.
Data compilations from New York City reflect that non-felony conviction rates are 92 percent for defendants held in pretrial detention; for arrestees allowed to go free until trial, the conviction rate was 50 percent.
On the national level, a full 33 percent of all felony charges ended in dismissals. Pretrial detention should be used for defendants who are dangerous to others or to themselves. It must be used as intended, a tool to keep people safe – not as a coercive tool to impel defendants to plead guilty, sometimes to crimes they did not commit, just to regain their freedom.
While it is unknown how many cases of mistaken identity lead to wrongful arrests, it is not an uncommon occurrence. Given that around 10.5 million people are booked into local jails annually, even if a wrongful arrest occurred in just one of every 100,000 cases, that would still be over 100 innocent people jailed each year. And that doesn’t include wrongful convictions.
Sources: aclu.org, cincinnati.com
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