Burden of Innocence
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[What impressed you about Frederick Daye's case?]

It took quite a bit of time before we were able to grasp all of the facts of what occurred, and all the evidence had been presented and how this occurred. But I think what was most revealing to me, when I really got in deeply into the evidence, was that there was really very little evidence that had convicted this man. ...

When you are a convicted felon and the time comes for your release, they begin to get you somewhat prepared for that release. That doesn't occur for a person who's innocent and who's then suddenly released.

The most shocking realization that I received in this case is that for an individual who is innocent and spends 10 years in prison for a crime he hasn't committed, the 10 years in prison is so much worse for him than it is for someone who's actually guilty. The circumstances are the same. They're in the same prisons, they're treated the same. They lose the same rights. But the innocent man suffers so much more, because he hasn't done anything to be there. He's lost his life, he's lost his freedom, his liberty. Life has very little meaning to him, and he hasn't committed any offense. He hasn't taken any action. He's lost control of the circumstances of his life.

Someone who's actually guilty can at least say to themselves, "It was my conduct," or "I did something wrong." [They] may not have agreed with the sentence [they] received, but they at least have a sense that there were circumstances of their own making that brought them here.

The innocent man wants to get up every day and scream, just scream that he's innocent, and no one will hear him. The police don't hear him. The courts don't hear him. Sometimes his family doesn't hear him, because it's difficult for the family to believe that an innocent man has been given a life imprisonment sentence. It's hard for people to cope with that. ...

But it happens, and it happened to Ricky Daye. And it's a horrific experience for a human being because you don't have any hope. You feel as if the system has simply taken your life from you, and for no reason; it's done it arbitrarily. ...

photo of ritter

Ritter is Frederick Daye's attorney. He has appealed to the California Board of Compensation on his client's behalf, asking for $100 for every day Daye spent in prison. In this interview with FRONTLINE, Ritter talks about Daye's tortuous journey through the criminal justice system, how he felt when a jury refused to award Daye any compensation, and his client's difficult situation today. This interview was conducted on Oct. 28, 2002.

[What do people think when you tell them the story of Frederick Daye?]

I've often told this story to people that I meet in the streets, ordinary people, workers, friends. You tell them the Ricky Daye story, and they hear about a man who's innocent and spends 10 years in prison. They're shocked by it, and they say, "Well that case must be a million dollar case, surely. The damages are so tragic, it must be a huge, huge case."

But the problem is that the system has a great [deal] of protections for itself. Our criminal justice system has a great deal of immunities and various legal protections that makes it very difficult to prosecute a case on behalf of someone who has been falsely convicted. In many instances, these immunities prevent you from being able to present this case, present the issue of damages, to present the reasons that the officers resulted in having a conviction.

So all of a sudden, the case that most people in the streets think are multimillion dollar cases turn out to be worth very little.

[It's difficult to sue the state?]

It's extremely difficult to sue a city, a state, a county entity. In many instances, the immunities are tremendous to overcome. It makes it very, very difficult to present the entire case of damages.

In this case, we were restricted; horribly restricted. We were only entitled to present evidence of damages of three days -- from the day Ricky was initially arrested on the charge to the day in which charges were filed by the prosecutor's office. So the jury didn't know that Ricky Daye had spent 10 years in jail. They were not even aware of that. So we were trying a case for damages of three days in jail. ...

From the time the charges were filed, everyone thereafter and everything they did was immunized. In other words, there was no liability for any of the officers, detectives, anyone else that was involved in the case once the charges were filed. So the 10 years that he spent in prison were inconsequential. They could have been 100 years in prison, and it made no difference. ...

[Talk about when you found out that the jury didn't award the compensation to him.]

... I don't think it was any great surprise to me -- or to Ricky or even to the court -- when the jury found no liability against the state for a charge that we were trying approximately 15 years after it occurred. I mean, the jury couldn't even understand why we were here, asking for three days of damages, 15 years after the event occurred. Why was this case even in federal court?

[What is behind this idea of immunity, for prosecutors and police, for example?]

There's been a great deal of protection provided to those who work in the field of law enforcement. These protections are based upon a priority that has been given [to them]. ... So in many instances, these immunities grow out of a desire to make sure that those who file charges against people on a regular basis have some protection. In the event they commit a mistake, they commit an error, they are then still protected. ...

[So what has happened in Daye's case?]

... The legislature in California has been somewhat concerned over the last several years about a number of individuals that have been falsely convicted in California and have spent lengthy periods of time in prison -- 10 years, 15 years, 17 years. So they have begun to look at this problem and see if there is a way that they can, in some manner, compensate these individuals.

So we filed a claim with the state of California. It took us a lengthy period of time of briefs, counterbriefs and discussion of the legal issues in the case. But ultimately, we received a hearing in Sacramento, Calif., on Ricky Daye's behalf. We presented our case, and they preliminarily approved an award of compensation for Ricky Daye.

[Did he get it?]

He hasn't received it yet. The board did approve approximately $389,000 as an award to Ricky Daye. That was based upon the legislature's consideration several years ago that a hundred dollars a day was an appropriate fee to pay for someone who was falsely convicted.

[Talk about how you imagine Ricky's life to be.]

I've gotten to know Ricky fairly well, and I know that he has a tremendous amount of anger. The frustration and the anger that is caused by this is tremendous, and I think he still has a lot of anger. He has anger towards those who convicted him initially, because he was arbitrarily chosen. He has anger towards the system that failed to compensate him after he was released. Basically, the civil justice system failed to provide him with any compensation after they fully recognized that he had been falsely convicted, and that was a double tragedy for him.

I felt such sympathy for him when the verdict came in the civil trial that awarded him no compensation whatsoever. It was truly unfair. ...

[Are those who are released from prison after serving their terms more prepared for the outside world than the exonerated or pardoned ones?]

Yes. Another realization that we had in this case is that, when you are a convicted felon and the time comes for your release, they begin to get you somewhat prepared for that release. There are a number of programs that work you back into society. Some are called halfway houses, and various other types of programs that work an individual back into society, out of the prison community and into normal society.

That doesn't occur for a person who's innocent and who's then suddenly released. They're simply released. They're out of the system. They're not given any assistance or any help. They're not given any type of treatment or therapy. They're simply released into society with all [their] problems and all [their] anger and all [their] frustrations. ...

These types of offenses -- that is, false convictions -- they don't occur to doctors or lawyers, sons of judges, or judges. These only occur to people who don't have the strength of support to scream about their innocence. It's only the person that we can falsely convict and then forget about, because if you have to look at someone like Ricky Daye every day, with realization that he's innocent, you can't live with it. But he has to live with it. It's very difficult, very difficult. It's hard to live that way.

I've read some of his letters while he was in prison, and at times, I think he was really not sure that he wanted to live at all. It's very difficult for him. ...


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published may 1, 2003

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