The D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of a man accused in the high-profile assault and robbery of an elderly street vendor in Foggy Bottom.
In tossing out James Dorsey's convictions, the appeals court found that detectives' improper interrogation contributed to Dorsey's decision to confess.
On May 3, 2005, a man confronted the street vendor, then an 83-year-old woman, in the loading dock of her apartment building. He knocked her down, kicked her and searched her pockets before fleeing the scene.
People who knew Dorsey identified him as the assailant shown in the surveillance video that was broadcast on television. After Dorsey was arrested on an unrelated complaint, he was questioned about the assault.
During the interrogation, Dorsey invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent and to have a lawyer present. However, detectives continued to press him to confess for a while longer before they returned him to a holding cell. Several hours later, Dorsey asked to meet with detectives in order to confess.
At a hearing prior to Dorsey's trial, a judge ruled that the confession could be used as evidence. That judge determined that Dorsey was motivated to confess by feelings of remorse.
However, the appeals court determined that there appears to be a link between Dorsey's confession and the pressure that detectives placed on him after he requested to speak with a lawyer.
"There is no question that the police improperly badgered Dorsey to confess after he asserted his Fifth Amendment right to counsel," the majority opinion wrote.
During a new trial, prosecutors will not be able to present evidence of Dorsey's confession during their main case. But because the confession was voluntary, prosecutors can use the confession to impeach Dorsey's testimony if he takes the stand.