Orange County's $100,000 lesson 


Terrence Terrill Arnold spent 116 days in jail in 1994-95 before he was able to convince Orange County officials that they were holding the wrong person. But from his horrific experience, and those of more than 120 others held in cases of mistaken identity, have come new procedures that officials hope will prevent this from happening again.;;The Sheriff’s Department is relying on an automated fingerprinting system scheduled to go online anyday now to prevent it from failing to check the identity of those it has arrested. And, as a result of the Arnold case, jail officials have actually begun following up on cases in which inmates maintain they have been misidentified, preventing these cases from getting lost in the gargantuan shuffle of paper that is the Orange County criminal justice system. Finally, the sheriff has been given authority to release jailed victims of mistaken identification without a court hearing. ;;Still officials aren’t ready to promise perfection. "No system is foolproof. There’s humans involved," says Allen Moore, spokesman for the Orange County Jail. ;; Arnold and attorney Steve Mason are splitting a $100,000 settlement recently made with the county officials whose collective goofs kept Arnold from establishing his innocence, beginning with the failure to use fingerprints to discover Arnold’s brother was the person originally arrested and continuing with the inability of court officials and a public defender to carry off the previously required hearing, despite three sets of prints, any of which should have been enough to free Arnold. Only after a second arrest on his brother’s charges and a fourth fingerprint check was Arnold finally free.;;While adding procedures to avoid repeating such an injustice, the sheriff’s department is said to have eliminated another custom: the collection of reports involving those wrongfully arrested. These reports, known as "Booth’s Binders," are to be the basis of Mason’s class-action lawsuit attacking Orange County’s awful record of keeping innocent persons behind bars.

More by Lawrence Budd

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