The New York Times Magazine - I Write About the Law. But Could I Really Help Free a Prisoner? by Emily Bazelon
Emily Bazelon has an excellent article in The New York Times Magazine that readers will enjoy. The article details how she and her sister, Lara Bazelon, worked to exonerate Yutico Briley. Terry Gross described the events as follows on FRESH AIR.
While serving a 60-year sentence with no possibility of parole for an armed robbery in New Orleans that he insisted he didn't commit, Yutico Briley wrote dozens of letters to lawyers, innocence projects and anyone he thought could help him get out of prison. In 2019, after seven years in prison, he heard my guest Emily Bazelon interviewed on FRESH AIR. We were talking about her book "Charged," about how prosecutors had gained breathtaking power in the past 40 years and used it to put more people in prison, ripping apart poor communities, mostly Black or brown. Briley wrote to her, but she didn't even read his letter until a couple of months later when a librarian in Oregon, who corresponded with Briley through a support program for incarcerated people, got in touch with Bazelon, saying, Briley was trying to contact her. Bazelon found Briley's letter, began corresponding with him and became convinced his case was worth looking into.She contacted several lawyers, who declined to represent him, so she tried her sister Lara Bazelon, a professor of law at the University of San Francisco, where she runs a criminal justice clinic. Lara took on the case, and with the help of her students, a private detective and Emily, she was able to appeal Briley's case. He was exonerated in March.
The article in the NYT Magazine details the case and reflects on the criminal justice system and the many ways that it failed in this case. In particular, the piece contains a detailed discussion of the unreliability of eyewitness identifications.
Though Briley was convicted at trial, there is also an interesting discussion of plea bargaining in the piece. Shortly before trial, Briley was offered 12 years in prison in return for pleading guilty. Of the deal, Briley's father said, "Even though Yutico was adamant that he didn't do it, going to trial was too risky to risk your life on." Briley did go to trial, and received a trial penalty of an additional 48 years in prison for exercising his constitutional right to trial.