Today in Miller v. State, the Utah Court of Appeals ruled that district courts must hear claims of factual innocence without making the person bringing the claims jump through myriad procedural hoops. Now, Harry Miller can finally pursue his claim of factual innocence.
Miller’s story is heartbreaking.
In 2003, a woman saw Miller in public and identified him as the man that robbed her at knife point. Miller, a black man, had an alibi. At the time of the crime (December 8, 2000) he was in his homes state of Louisiana. Moreover, less than two weeks before this crime he had a stroke; he was unable to drive and required frequent care. His in-home nurse asserted that she had visited him, in his home, on December 7, the day before the crime.
The State of Utah, however, prosecuted Miller anyway. Its theory of the crime was that Mr. Miller could have done it. Yet their timeline required Miller to leave the house shortly after his nurse left, get on a plane, fly to Salt Lake City, and shortly thereafter, rob this woman. He then had to get back on a place and fly home because several people saw Miller in Louisiana. Miller has never been on a plane.
Unbelievably, a jury convicted Miller and the court sentenced him to five years to life in prison. Miller appealed his conviction and someone, somewhere came to their senses. The State agreed that “irregularities” occurred in Millers trial and stipulated to its reversal. The State then decided not to reprosecute Miller. Still, the State took over four years of Millers life; that’s how long he spent in prison.
Flash forward to today. Although he’s been found “not guilty,” Miller wants to take advantage of Utah’s Factual Innocence Statute. The Statute allows people that are more than factually innocent (as opposed to merely not guilty) to recover money for the time they spent in prison.
Miller asked the district court for a hearing to prove his innocence. The court denied him the opportunity to tell his story. Therefore, a good friend of mine, Andrew McCullough, took Miller’s case to the Utah Court of Appeals.
Today the Court ruled that as long as Miller demonstrates there “is a bona fide issue as to whether the [he] is factually innocent,” he is entitled to hearing. The Court then held that Mr. Miller proved a bona fide issue exists. This isn’t the end of Miller’s battle, but in this case that’s a good thing.
Congratulations to Mr. Harry Miller for winning and to Andy McCullough for championing justice.