In 1989, a man named Santiago Rivera was arrested. He allegedly committed a crime for which a warrant was issued four years earlier. But he was soon released because fingerprint data proved he was not the man the police were looking for. So why did they arrest him? Because the real perpetrator was also named Santiago Rivera. In addition, the two Riveras shared the same birthday -- and the warrant described a man that was within one inch of height and ten pounds in weight of the wrongfully arrested Rivera.
It all added up to an unfortunate mistake. But surely the police wouldn't make the mistake again, right?
Well, funny story -- they did.
The police reissued the warrant, but didn't add some critical information on the warrant that would differentiate the wrongfully arrested Rivera with the Rivera the police were actually seeking. The two Riveras had different middle names, which were not on the new warrant, and no photo ID of the wrongfully arrested Rivera was added. 20 years after the original incident, the wrong Rivera was arrested again by the police, and this time he toiled in jail for a month before police cleared him.
The warrant was reissued again, this time with the differentiating middle name and a photo ID of the wrongfully arrested Rivera. He also sued the police department responsible for his predicament, though it was found that no due process violation occurred.
It seems impossible, and the story ends in bizarre fashion as it would seem like the police were irresponsible in some way given the repeated mistake. It does serve as an important reminder about the pitfalls of the criminal justice system. Sometimes, innocent people really do go to jail. And sometimes, the police make honest mistakes. When these incidents occur, the accused individual needs to consult a criminal defense attorney immediately.
Source: Courthouse News Service, "No Due Process Violation in LA Arrest Mixup," Lorraine Bailey, March 12, 2014