West Virginia Supreme Court addresses whether defendants should have the right to exculpatory DNA results before entering a guilty plea

Joseph Buffey is a West Virginia man that was arrested in 2001 for the robbery and rape of an 83-year-old woman. He was interrogated by police for nine hours without food, when he finally confessed to the break-in in a tape-recorded statement. He then immediately denied his involvement, saying that he made up the story because the police were “breathing down [his] neck.” Buffey knew that DNA results from the rape kit would clear his name. Buffey’s attorney repeatedly asked about the status of the DNA results, but Buffey was getting close to the expiration date of a plea offer, in which Buffey expected to get 15 years for the crime and other unrelated charges against him would be dropped. In May 2002, the day finally came when his plea deal would expire, so Buffey took the guilty plea and ended up being sentenced to 70 to 110 years.

Buffey has since maintained his innocence and has discovered that the DNA results not only failed to implicate him, but pointed to another suspect named Adam Bowers, who had lived close to the victim and had been accused of sexually abusing other women. The victim had explicitly denied being attacked by more than one person and only described one person as her attacker, but the prosecutors constructed an elaborate story in which the two attackers used hand signals and whispers so the victim would not know there was more than one person. Bowers was convicted of the crime.

Buffey has been left with few routes for appeal because he took a guilty plea and thereby waived many of his rights that would have been available had he been wrongly convicted in a trial. State courts have been divided on the issue of whether defendants who plead guilty have a right to exculpatory information. Some courts held that defendants waived those rights when they took the plea. Other courts have created an “added safeguard” for defendants taking a plea in their right to certain exculpatory evidence, asserting the prosecutor has a “special role… in the search for truth.”

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/28/magazine/who-should-have-access-to-dna-evidence.html?_r=1&referer=

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