Innocence Clinic students with Craig Trocino (top middle)
Photo courtesy of goodmiami.com
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (July 29, 2021) — Florida’s 1st District Court of Appeal issued a unanimous written opinion July 15, 2021, overturning the armed robbery conviction of Dustin Duty, who was wrongfully convicted of a 2013 armed robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. Craig Trocino of the University of Miami School of Law Innocence Clinic and Seth Miller of the Innocence Project of Florida, who jointly represented Dustin Duty in these proceedings, urges the state to drop the case.
Miami Law's Innocence Clinic has worked on Mr. Duty's case for the past five years, never giving up hope or persistence.
Duty, who has served eight years of a 20-year sentence, was convicted based solely on the testimony of the victim who identified him as the perpetrator during an inherently suggestive show-up procedure. Despite having an alibi in the form of Duty’s boss who dropped Duty off in the area of the robbery after the time of the incident and attired differently than the perpetrator, Duty’s trial counsel failed to investigate fully and present this critical evidence.
After an incorrect denial of postconviction relief by the trial court, the appellate court rendered an opinion overturning Duty’s conviction and remanding the case for a new trial. In its opinion, the Court held that Duty’s trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and call an alibi witness, for failing to impeach a detective, and for failing to move to suppress a highly suggestive show-up identification. The appellate court further held that those errors taken cumulatively were grounds requiring relief. Specifically, the appellate court wrote, “[d]ue to the individual and cumulative effect of errors, we find [Duty] did not receive the representation guaranteed him by the constitution, calling into question his conviction.”
“This opinion is an important step toward righting this wrongful conviction. We appreciate the appellate court identifying the egregious errors Mr. Duty’s trial counsel made. As the court concluded, trial counsel’s errors denied him the representation he deserved and deprived the jury of hearing critical evidence that proved Mr. Duty did not commit this crime,” said Clinic Director Trocino, co-counsel for Duty.
The appellate court’s decision is now final, and the case will return to the trial court in Jacksonville. The appellate court’s opinion holds the victim’s identification unconstitutional and, therefore, inadmissible. This leaves an already weak case for the State to fully undercut.
“Any fair appraisal of the appellate court’s opinion leaves no evidence pointing toward Dustin Duty’s guilt and all that remains is significant evidence of his innocence. This case should not have been prosecuted in the first place. But the prosecution now has the chance to make it right by dropping this case and not attempting to retry it. We urge them to do just that,” said IPF’s Executive Director, Seth Miller.
Both the Miami Law Innocence Clinic and the Innocence Project of Florida are dedicated to finding innocent people in Florida’s prisons and freeing them using new evidence of actual innocence.
The Miami Law Innocence Clinic is a pro bono legal clinic at the University Miami School of Law. The clinic trains law students on the fundamentals of litigation through cases of actual innocence. Since 2012 more than 150 students have benefited from the unique educational atmosphere of the Innocence Clinic, 18 of which worked on Duty’s case over the last five years.
The Innocence Project of Florida is a 501(c)(3) justice organization. Since 2003, IPF has freed 26 individuals from wrongful incarceration who collectively spent more than 550 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.
“Miami Law’s clinics give our students invaluable hands-on practice experience, but they do so much more than that," said Acting Dean Stephen Schnably. "The Innocence Clinic and IPF, won a stunning victory not only for Mr. Duty but also for the fundamental principle of justice for all.”