Jarrett Adams was 17 years old when he was accused of rape. Never having been in trouble with the law, he and his family trusted their court-appointed lawyer who advised him to take a “no defense strategy.” This prevented Jarrett from calling the one witness whose testimony would have likely prevented his conviction.
A report on the case by (Wisconsin) Law School News, submitted on August 8, 2012, includes an excellent video featuring both Adams and his attorney. It’s a study in how accusations can stick even with very thin evidence. It also reveals the high cost of inadequate counsel.
Adams was convicted and first sentenced to 20 years in prison. When he told the sentencing judge that he was innocent, the judge added eight more years.
He survived in prison “by the grace of God.” He went to the law library daily, wrote countless letters, and attracted the assistance of the Wisconsin Innocence Project (WIP). The WIP’s Keith Findley led the defense team and pursued a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Findley references a common misconception: “…if your lawyer screws up, if your lawyer doesn’t do a good job, you get a new trial.” However, he explains, “…the courts have established a fairly onerous standard that one has to meet in order to be granted a new trial based on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.” Consequently, the great majority of such claims are denied.
However, Findley and the defense team won the case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit with a unanimous decision. The state of Wisconsin eventually dropped all charges against Adams, who had served nearly eight years in prison.
Findley was greatly impressed with Adams’ grasp of the law. With no college education, Adams was self-taught. He was very engaged in and contributed to his defense strategy. Since his release, he has received an associates degree with honors and is pursuing his college degree. Highly driven to become a lawyer, he will be aided in reaching his goal by the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Marovitz Public Interest Scholarship. His personal experience fuels Adams’ commitment. He aims to provide others charged with a crime the quality defense he didn’t have.