Jermaine Smothers Conviction and Sentence of 29 years to Life – A Tragedy in Justice
CAL-FIJA TAKES ON ITS FIRST CASE OF WRONGFUL CONVICTION
SAN DIEGO, CA – California ranks among the top five in states with the highest numbers of incarcerated prisoners who were wrongfully convicted and subsequently exonerated. Yet there remains tens of thousands who are still incarcerated in California prisons by a system that demonstrates “institutional indifference” for wrongfully convicted victims.
Since 1989 there have been over 200 exonerations of wrongfully convicted victims in California. The states of Texas, Illinois, and New York make up other states where exonerations are at or well above these high levels. Estimates of the wrongfully convicted range between a low of 2% to as high as 15% of the current U.S. prison population, and California estimates are higher. While these may seem low percentages, the stark reality is that the numbers range between 75,000 and nearly 500,000!
Enter Jermaine Smothers. One of thousands of victims of a criminal justice system that has not only failed, but one that remains indifferent to admitting it got it wrong.
Jermaine Smothers was accused of shooting and killing Ernesto Flores on May 11, 1995. Jermaine consistently maintained that he did not shoot and kill Ernesto. Despite passing a polygraph examination prior to trial and despite the exceedingly unreliable eyewitnesses who claimed that they saw him shoot Flores, he was convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The trial judge gave him a sentence of 29 years-to-life.
In 2001, an Oceanside Police Department homicide detective working on an unrelated homicide case inadvertently discovered evidence that Jermaine was not the shooter in Ernesto’s murder. During the course of her investigation, she came into contact with several people who said that Jermaine was incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. In 2005, she began looking further into Jermaine’s case. Over the next several years she interviewed several witnesses who told her who the real shooter was. Further, several of the critical eyewitnesses against Jermaine admitted they lied at his trial. In 2008, the detective presented the case to the California Innocence Project (CIP), shortly before her retirement. Since that time, both she and CIP have jointly investigated Jermaine’s case and uncovered further evidence of innocence.
In 2018, CIP filed a post-conviction petition on Jermaine’s behalf with evidence showing the eyewitnesses were wrong in their identification and that the true perpetrator is someone else.
A Reflection on three decades of Tough on Crime
I seriously doubt that many who bought into the narrative of “tough on crime” more than three decades ago would be sitting here today wondering where it went off the rails. However, that clearly is the result and today the sheer number of incarcerated victims of wrongful conviction is breathtaking by any measure.
Having reviewed hundreds of examples and several dozens of cases, the case of Mr. Jermaine Smothers was a case that troubled me more than any of the many I reviewed and that equally need support.
Mr. Smothers case is the classic example of “Close the case” vs “Solve the Crime”. It is the text book example of the “institutional indifference” the California Criminal Justic system has once a defedant is convicted and sentenced. It is the glaring example of what went wrong more than three decades ago, and a perfect example of what remains wrong with a justice system that refuses to be reformed.
The case troubled me for these and a host of other reasons not the leaste of which the practices employed by the lead detective in interviewing witnesses, the fact that a subsequent homicide detective in the same police department, years after the conviction in an unrelated case found evidence that would exonerate Mr. Smothers, and the fact according to reports that the one African-American potential juror in the trial was bumped by procedural tactics of the prosecutor who was more interested in “closing the case”.
Mr. Smothers case bothered me for another reason. The amount of time that went into his defense given the charges and the speed with which “justice was served” is almost beyond understanding.
When you get that feeling that begins to nag at you, and you cannot seem to let it go, generally my experience is there is something wrong with the story and there is much we are not seeing.
I am convinced as you will come to be also, that Mr. Smothers is an Innocent Man caught up in a system, who at the time was focused on “closing cases” not solving crimes. A black youth, a gun, a dead body. Case closed!
So, with that allow me to add for the record. Each of us owes Mr. Smothers our attention, our support, our energy and our resolved determination to right a wrong and FREE JERMAINE not only because he is innocent, but because our system demands justice to be equal and his case along with countless thousands of others, were not equal.
- Please sign up for our CAL-FIJA Times Newsletter.
- Please follow our efforts to FREE JERMAINE.
- Please follow our progress as we work with other organizations to help FREE JERMAINE.
Please write to Jermaine at:
JERMAINE LEE SMOTHERS
P.O. Box 731,
Imperial, CA 92251-0731
We will be launching a fund raising effort on behalf of Jermaine in the very near future. Please do not send donations until we provide our Official IRS Nonprofit status and we have set up all the necessary financial reporting as required.