When you think of mistaken identity in a criminal context, you may think of an eyewitness who – intentionally or accidentally – misidentifies someone as the perpetrator of a crime. Or perhaps you think of a police lineup or photo array in which the cards were maliciously stacked against a particular person. Sometimes, however, mistaken identity happens even when the police have hard evidence that they have the wrong person.
This is what happened in a recent case in South Florida.
Preventable case of mistaken identity
On January 20 of this year, 26-year-old restaurant cook Leonardo Silva Oliveira was arrested as a fugitive for violating probation charges. The police had been pursuing a man by that name and age who was wanted for grand theft and burglary charges, was last known to weigh 213 pounds and had tattoos on both arms.
The cook who was arrested, however, had no criminal record. He weighed only 150 pounds and had no tattoos. Additionally, his birthday was 10 days later than that of the fugitive in question. Nonetheless, despite all of the clear evidence in his favor, the innocent Oliveira spent five days behind bars. On his fifth day of incarceration, the sheriff’s department finally took his fingerprints, compared them with those of the fugitive and determined that he was, in fact, the wrong man.
One of the drawbacks of the criminal justice system is that any arrest – even if it doesn’t result in a charge or conviction – ends up on your permanent criminal record. This can lead to challenges in obtaining future employment, finding an apartment or getting a loan.
Fortunately, there are options for expungement under Florida law. Expungement is a process by which you apply to have an event erased from your criminal record. It no longer appears in background checks. If you apply for a job, you are not obligated to mention the arrest, charge or conviction that was expunged. Through expungement, it effectively becomes as though the event never happened.
Cases of mistaken identity can lead to disastrous consequences for the innocent victims. Fortunately, expungement can enable these individuals – and others who meet the qualifications for expungement – to move on with their lives with a clean slate.