In late September of 1996, an altercation occurred at a New York subway station. When officers arrived at the scene, an individual began shooting at them. One week later, a man named Norberto Peets was arrested in connection to an unrelated robbery. An officer indicated that he believed Mr. Peets to be the same individual who had shot at officers one week prior.
Despite presenting a defense – including an alibi corroborated by family members – Mr. Peets was convicted of the shooting offense and sentenced to between 30 years and life in prison. After 26 years served, Mr. Peets was recently exonerated. One of the core issues in Mr. Peets’s story concerns how the lack of a rigorous defense led to the unjust imprisonment of an innocent individual.
The importance of rigorous counsel
At the time of his exoneration, the Bronx County Supreme Court vacated the convictions that had kept Mr. Peets behind bars for decades. Prior to this turn of events, investigations by both the Bronx County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit and the Innocence Project determined that the attorney who had represented him at trial had failed to properly investigate Mr. Peets’s case.
The reports concluded that this failure on behalf of counsel caused key evidence to be overlooked, which ultimately would have – if uncovered – both discredited the testifying officer’s eyewitness account and pointed to an alternative suspect. It was, in fact, a matter of legal malpractice that led to Mr. Peets’s wrongful conviction.
It is widely understood that having a strong legal defense is key to securing a favorable outcome in a criminal matter. It is less well understood just how important adequate representation is to the cultivation of such a defense. Mr. Peets’s story illustrates this point in tragic detail.