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Wrongful Arrest Highlights Problems With One-Witness Cases

A Miami-Dade man sat in jail without a bond for 37 days before detectives and prosecutors realized that they had the wrong guy.

Back in February, a Liberty City man was shot and killed outside of a grocery store. The only evidence was the testimony of one alleged eyewitness.

Based on the statement of that witness, detectives and prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant for a 20-year old man. The arrest warrant was for the charge of second-degree murder.

But after the 20-year old had been arrested, taken to jail, and denied a bond (as is the standard procedure in Florida when one is charged with a felony punishable by life in prison), detectives claim that the real killer came forward and confessed to the murder.

Police and prosecutors quickly nolle prossed the case as soon as they determined that they had arrested an innocent man. But too little, too late? Don't you think?

The man spent over a month in jail and now his name is forever linked to a murder. His life and reputation will never be the same.

All because police and prosecutors blindly took the word of a single witness without physical evidence or other testimony to corroborate the allegations.

Many times, murder cases are tough for prosecutors because witnesses are reluctant to come forward. However, even when it appears that a serious crime has an eyewitness, no detective nor prosecutor can proceed against a suspect unless solid evidence proves that the eyewitness is telling the truth.

Anybody can say anything to anyone at any time. Doesn't mean they are telling the truth. It is better to let a murder go unsolved while detectives and prosecutors work to put a case together rather than jump on the first suspect available simply because some uncorroborated witness says they did it.

This is a sad day for the justice system. Even though the man spent only 37 days in jail (and not 37 years in prison-like many innocent people), this was a rush to judgment by the police and prosecutors involved.

I'm not saying that all one-witness cases need to go. But no prosecution should ever commence solely upon the word of one person. The margin for error is just too great.

Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving Miami-Dade and Broward.