Today, Richard Miles Gets Paid for 14 Innocent Years He Spent in Prison. Tomorrow: Payback.

Categories: Legal Battles

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Photo by Leslie Minora
Richard Miles stands outside the apartment he'll leave as soon as he can.
Richard Miles has been out of prison for two and a half years, and he was finally, officially exonerated in February for the crime he didn't commit -- the 1994 murder and attempted murder at a Texaco near Bachman Lake. He's expecting his compensation check from the state today, any minute now. It will be the final bit of closure to his case, which has consumed nearly two decades of his life.

Miles is a busy man, finishing off his own case, starting a non-profit to help parolees, and planning with his lawyer how to seek punishment against the prosecutor who landed him in prison for so long, which, as we pointed out recently, can be a nearly impossible quest. Yesterday, in the meantime, two new acquaintances sat at his kitchen table, telling him about their friend who they feel is wrongfully serving a life sentence for murder, hoping Miles might somehow help.

Miles works at a hotel, manning the banquet hall and driving the van. He recently cut back to part-time, preparing to phase out and start his non-profit, Miles for Freedom, which will provide transitional housing to those recently released from prison. He'll use a portion of the initial compensation -- he gets $80,000 for each year he spent behind bars -- to get his foundation up-and-running. Then his annuity payments will kick in.

In 2009, Miles was released on his own recognizance based on withheld evidence, including two police reports and the determination that what was thought to be gunshot residue on Miles' hand may actually have been something else. In the two and a half years between Miles' release and the court of criminal appeals decision basing his release on "actual innocence", he did not know whether he would eventually receive compensation and had to find a job despite a 15-year gap on his resume. He had to make it on his own with little support on which to rest.

Now, he's decided he will be the one to provide that initial support to others. Once he scopes out a location and purchases property, he'll provide training for parolees to learn electrical skills or plumbing skills so they can earn their stay by improving the properties, along with financial literacy classes and counseling. "In prison, the theme is, good work doesn't pay ... that mindset has to be broken when that person comes out of prison," Miles says, sitting on the couch of the small South Dallas apartment he's about to ditch as soon as he deposits his compensation check and closes on a new home.

He'll also use that check to chase even more justice. There's so much compassion for exonerees, he says. But compassion only goes so far. "They're so compassionate about us coming out that the compassion overrides the -- I don't want to say anger -- but the accountability aspect of the whole thing," Miles says.

"My exoneration was standing upon Brady and prosecutorial misconduct," he says. There was no DNA evidence, no confession, no nothing -- just unfettered withholding of evidence and procedural flaws -- all potent enough to land him his freedom and, finally, the recognition of his innocence.

He says with the legal protections prosecutors have, he and his lawyer are still hashing out the best course of action. But to him, all that matters is that they find some course of action. Not even plans for his non-profit can take him away from pursuing punishment for those who punished him.

"It's just something that I have to do," he says. "It's accountability, not so much just compensation."

He wants his non-profit to go a step farther -- to help others as they leave prisons without the compassion and financial safety-nets afforded to exonerees. And while he aims to help people recently released from prison in an official capacity, he still looks to help others who may have also been wrongfully convicted.

Miles listens as his visitors rehash the details of their friend's case, having lunch at his kitchen table. The case rested on the testimony of one eyewitness; there is no conclusive DNA evidence, no confession of another killer. Evidence seemingly pointing to his innocence surfaced years later. But whether or not the man is innocent, legal hurdles and a hefty doses of luck would be necessary for the two men to ever meet outside a prison. "It's just like my case," Miles says.

This post has been updated to reflect the changes Miles brought to our attention in the comments. It now correctly describes the objectives of Miles for Freedom, whereas the earlier version reflected a thorough misunderstanding. Sorry for any confusion.


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20 comments
clmorris
clmorris

Amen, my kids were wrongfully taken from me afew years ago. Wish I had the resources to get them back, but God works in mysterious ways. Im glad there is still some kind of justice in this world. Everything revolves around money now. No money, your all alone. Unfortunatley my 6 kids are having to suffer, but Ive given it to God to take care of. And all over false accusations that were never proved and dismissed in the court of law. But I was never given my babies back. If anyone has any hope for me please email me. Thak you all and may God Bless this world. clm1266@live.com

Richard Miles
Richard Miles

Thanks for the article Leslie, but there is one error. My non profit organization is for those coming home on parole. The men and women coming home from prison that want to do right. Those are the people that I want to help. And I did not get any assistance from parole cause I was not on parole. But thank you all, love you Richard Miles

Guest
Guest

If we're supposed to just trust that prosecutors will always do the right thing (and, even when they don't, we don't punish them), shouldn't that apply to everyone?

If the lack of disincentives don't make prosecutors violate the law and their professional ethics, then that should also hold for the rest of us. We should all have absolute immunity for any of our actions. If they can be trusted to be on the honor system, so can we.

Today, I start my lobbying efforts to get a new law passed that gives everybody absolute immunity for everything. I call it the "We're All Ken Anderson Act"

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

This is the reason that I believe that we need a law that states "If a person is found to be wrongfully convicted do to prosecutorial misconduct (withholding evidence is an example) the prosecutor has to serve the sentence of the wrongfully convicted."

clmorris
clmorris

You are truely an insperation

Leslie Minora
Leslie Minora

Sorry to have bungled that point. I just updated the post. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

I'm sorry for what happened to you and support your fight for accountability. Good luck with your organization and the rest of your life.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

should this honor system apply to defense attorneys as well?

Davidleerothmann
Davidleerothmann

Well, then don't complain when there aren't any prosecutors. They get bad pay, crappy office space, (compared to their private sector brethren), and work a ton of hours. If, on top of all that you're going to add to the job description "will serve time in prison if a court decides you committed some sort of misconduct" 

I think you'd be screaming for someone to give them back their immunity so they could get the violent baddies off the streets. 99.9% of the people they put away are guilty. 

james
james

if henry wade had to do all the prison time he caused to be done wrongly, his grandkids wouldn't live long enough to do all of it. the 'justice' system is a bad joke and we the people are dam tired of bein' the butt of it.

Guest
Guest

Defense attorneys don't currently enjoy absolute immunity for their actions. If, despite all the evidence to the contrary, prosecutors can be trusted to never, ever violate the law or professional ethics, then surely defense attorneys should enjoy the same level of trust.

And doctors. And accountants, And the guy who works at 7-11, and construction companies, and companies that allegedly poor pig's blood into the Trinity River, and city officials who get large envelopes of cash behind churches, and so on and so on.

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

Davidleerothmann said it better than I will. It boils down to intentionally hiding evidence from opposing council should be illegal and punished with serious time in jail. I will make it very simple for you. How would you feel if you were convicted of a crime you did not commit and then later learned that the prosecutor hid evidence that would have cleared you of the charges?

Guest
Guest

First of all, we're talking about misconduct that's expressly against the law. It doesn't seem outside the realm of reality to tell citizens that if they choose to break the law, they might well end up serving time in prison. As quite a few tough-on-crime prosecutors have said in the past, if you can't do the time, don't do the crime. If prosecutors can't do their jobs without breaking the law, then we're all in trouble.

Granted, we have put people to death in this state who were less directly culpable for someone's murder than Ken Anderson is in Debra Baker's death, but in the real world, nobody is actually going to criminally charge a prosecutor for breaking the law. And, if they did, absolute immunity wouldn't save any prosecutor from prosecution.

Absolute immunity merely protects prosecutors from civil liability. In my opinion, most prosecutors could get by just as well with qualified immunity. Making the bad apples who do purposely or negligently break the law answer in court for their misconduct isn't asking too much.

The police manage to do their jobs without absolute immunity, and for even lower salaries and more immediate danger to their persons. Doctors have no immunity at all (and many of them make less than DAs and/or pay outrageous fees for malpractice insurance), but they still go out and do their jobs (and doctors can get sued a lot even when they've very clearly done nothing wrong. One of my doctor relatives was sued by a patient he hadn't even treated. A different doctor had, but that relative still had to hire a lawyer and go through months of motions and court appearances just to get removed from the suit). Teachers get sued for preventing kids from handing out candy canes for goodness sakes. No immunity there, and yet, since we keep firing so many of them. we obviously have more teachers than we need.

And all sorts of my friends have been sued by crazy people who somehow believe their horrible idea was stolen and used in some movie that bears no resemblance to anything they'd ever written that nobody ever read anyway. Where's the screenwriter absolute immunity?

If a prosecutor purposely or negligently violates the law and their professional ethics in the course of their job, there should be some recourse.

And, honestly, if you're Ken Anderson and you're almost single-handedly responsible for a young mother's murder because you couldn't be bothered to follow up on the evidence in front of you or to turn over evidence as required by law and professional ethics, you probably don't belong in the DA's office (or on the bench) anyway.

I don't mind some sort of qualified immunity for prosecutors. But if they purposely or negligently violate the law and professional ethics, there have to be consequences. People do what they're incentivized to do. If there's incentive to cheat, people will cheat. The only way to stem the cheating is to put forth some sort of punishment. As it is now, prosecutors know that even if they hide evidence and break the law, nobody's going to do anything about it.

If the Bar would do its job and discipline these attorneys like they're supposed to, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

But since they won't, then there needs to be an alternative option available to remove as much of the incentive to cheat as possible.

If we're not willing to do that, we need to give doctors and teachers and screenwriters and everybody else absolute immunity, too.

Davidleerothmann
Davidleerothmann

 - If, on top of all that you're going to add to the job description "will serve time in prison if a court decides you committed some sort of misconduct," you'll find few lawyers who want the job.-

NewsDog
NewsDog

Henry Wade gets credit for saying...'Anyone can prosecute and convict a guilty man. It takes a special talent to convict an innocent one'.

Guest
Guest

I have certainly not studied the issue, but I wonder how often it happens that a guilty person is acquitted at trial vs. how many guilty people go free because the state decides to go after the wrong person or otherwise taints the case.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

Agreed.I'm sure we agree there are innocent people in jail and then there are guilty people that should be in jail but were acquitted. I'd rather do whatever we can to keep innocent people out of jail, even if it lets a few guilties free(yes, I know, I don't want criminals killing and/or molesting my family.)It's not hard for me to decide which is worse--the prosecutor withholding evidence that convicts an innocent man, versus the defense attorney that got a murderer acquitted with the knowledge that his client did commit a crime. 

Guest
Guest

 Davidleerothmann is saying the opposite. He says that since almost everyone is guilty anyway, prosecutors should continue to be able to get off scot-free even when they purposely violate the law and their professional ethics.

Guest
Guest

There's no increased risk of imprisonment if we switch to the same qualified immunity that police officers have. And their current absolute immunity does not protect prosecutors from criminal prosecution at all (the fact that they're the ones who are charged with bringing criminal cases is much bigger protection in that area).

Every person convicted could currently claim police misconduct and sue, but those lawsuits are still rare because qualified immunity limits the avenues for getting into court to instances of true, provable misconduct. Only prosecutors are allowed to willfully and purposely commit misconduct and be protected from lawsuits for their actions. This explosion of lawsuits is unlikely.

As for political lawsuits, I'm not sure what kind of standing a political rival could have to sue a prosecutor for actions taken during the course of their job (which is what absolute immunity protects). And also, we have plenty of other political positions that don't have any immunity at all, yet we see very few lawsuits traded among political rivals (and some of the political prosecutions we do see are criminal cases that would not be protected by absolute immunity).

Davidleerothmann
Davidleerothmann

 "In my opinion, most prosecutors could get by just as well with qualified immunity. Making the bad apples who do purposely or negligently break the law answer in court for their misconduct isn't asking too much."

Every person convicted will claim prosecutorial misconduct. Spend time around convicted criminals. Not one of them did anything. They were all framed by the DA and the police. 

Should the jurisdiction appoint counsel for accused prosecutors? That's gonna cost some serious money. We'll need a shadow DA's office to provide defense for accused prosecutors. Should prosecutors have to defend themselves in court? That will become their second full time job, if so. We'll need more prosecutors, but no one will want the job when they see that they are being hired to take on the workload of everyone else who is in court facing criminal charges.

In addition, the job is political. Such prosecutions could and would be used against political enemies. What about supervising prosecutors? How far up the ladder should the risk of imprisonment go? Would you have the elected DA imprisoned for negligent supervision? If he pressures prosecutors to get convictions, a reasonably prudent DA might know or should know that front-line prosecutors might engage in misconduct to keep their jobs. Where does it stop? The DA's office is subject to political review: it's an elected office. Not sure we need criminal charges and prison time as a check on prosecutors. 

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