Practical Law Blog

A Novel Criminal Defense – Factual Innocence

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.

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3 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Joshua Baron
    November 20, 2009 at 1:58 pm #

    What a great victory! Thanks for the summary, Kelly.

    May 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Kelly, I find it ironic that no one except a Salt Lake Weekly has EVER bothered to contact us regarding our side of this story. My wife was the victim in the robbery, and there is allot more to this story than people know. I identified Mr. Miller after the Dee’s robbery. I am 100% sure it was him who committed the Dee’s robbery.

    Now one has to ask the question, is it so had to believe that a man who would rob an 80 year old waitress at gunpoint wouldn’t also rob another woman at knife point two years earlier?

    Also, no mention of the fact that Mr. Miller had the exact amount of money that was taken from the Dee’s robbery when he was arrested. He was walking around just fine that night apparently. Obviously he has selective stroke symptoms. People are not hearing the whole story about this man, and I fear for his next victims. Is there one ounce of proof beyond his family member’s testimony regarding his whereabouts on the date in question? No. Family member hearsay, that is all.

    And just so it’s clear, I do not have a racist bone in my body. The Police pulled several other Black males from the area that night to be potentially identified as the robber and none of them matched the suspect even closely. When I saw Mr. Miller, I knew he was the robber, not one ounce of doubt or question in my mind.

    The State was wrong in overturning his conviction and also wrong in dropping the Dee’s robbery case. This is a classic case of a real criminal playing the racist card and the State being too afraid of appearing politically “incorrect” to uphold their original conviction.

    I fear for his next victims and I think you have all been fooled…

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