ProBono Win: McGuireWoods Secures Reversal of Armed Robbery Conviction for Innocent Fairfax County Man Days Away from Deportation

September 14, 2012

Before a packed courtroom of family, friends, and media, a team of McGuireWoods attorneys successfully petitioned a circuit court judge in Fairfax, Va. to vacate the robbery conviction of Maligie Conteh, a pro-bono client of the firm.

In 2009, the Fairfax County Circuit Court wrongly convicted Conteh of an armed robbery based on a misidentification by the victim. After serving almost 18 months in jail for his conviction, Conteh was released early on good behavior. Conteh, however, was immediately detained by immigration officials, and faced immediate deportation to his native Sierra Leone where none of his family remains after fleeing the 1990’s Civil War.

The McGuireWoods team’s successful petition for a writ of habeas corpus nullifies Conteh’s conviction which should lead the way for McGuireWoods to have Conteh’s deportation proceedings dismissed and cause his immediate release from jail.

Conteh was arrested in 2009 after riding his bike past the scene of an armed robbery. The victim was the only witness who placed Conteh at the scene of the crime. At a hearing on Thursday, associate Anand Ramana (Washington) successfully argued that the prosecution’s failure to disclose a fraud conviction by the victim violated Conteh’s constitutional due process rights and deprived Conteh of a fair trial. Urged by the McGuireWoods team, the court also acknowledged that Conteh’s original attorney may have provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to investigate claims that his client was on Facebook shortly after the robbery.

Had defense counsel performed a basic investigation into Conteh’s alibi, McGuireWoods attorneys argued, he would have discovered information that would make it virtually impossible for Conteh to be at the scene of the crime. McGuireWoods’ attorneys supported this claim by uncovering time-stamped Facebook postings that place Conteh on Facebook only minutes after the crime. During the hearing on Thursday, Judge Bellows indicated the time-stamped postings could have raised a reasonable doubt if offered into evidence during the original trial, but that the prosecution’s failure to disclose the witness’ criminal record was reason enough to vacate the conviction.

To read more about Thursday’s ruling, click here to read a story from Friday’s Washington Post.