It happens to the best of us, right? I have certainly had my share of rejection over the past 50 years.
Some rejections are embarrassing. There was that one 15-minute guilty verdict which left me wondering if the jurors were only being polite when they left the courtroom to “deliberate.” Maybe they needed to stretch their legs or take a bathroom break?
Some rejections are to be expected. It was not surprising–given my lack of pedigree–when Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley all rejected me in 1990. As I recall, Stanford’s letter was the most gentle. I still have it somewhere. My fantasy is that one day someone will call me from one of those fine institutions and say “Our bad!” No problem, I would tell them, I am proud and grateful to be a Northeastern School of Law graduate.
Some rejections are thrilling and serve to recharge your batteries. Like being rejected by famous trial attorney Gerry Spence. In our first year of operation at Innocence Matters (2010), I woke up early one morning after a vivid dream about Gerry–whom I have never met–and made this impromptu and unconventional request for funding:
I dreamt about you last night. In my dream you were my friend. You came to my rescue. You knew instantly that I was bound to help many and ask for little in return. (Maybe a paycheck every now and then.) You intuitively knew that, although I was struggling a bit at this moment, I was not the type to give up. You knew that I was sincere, a little unorthodox maybe, but a good bet. In my dream, you did not hesitate. I asked. You gave. It was a marvelous dream. The kind you don’t want to wake up from.
Now that I am awake, I wonder if you’ll help me. . . . Or should I go back to sleep?
Several hours later, Gerry wrote back:
Well, Deirdre, you better go back to sleep. . . . Hope you do well. Gerry
It blew my mind. Gerry Spence wrote back! And he spelled my name right! How cool is that? One step closer to the dream! My friend (well, OK, email acquaintance ) Gerry knows a thing or two about rejection. (The Glorious Gift of Rejection, Rejection Part II, Rejection Part III.)
Sadly, some rejections destroy all hope. Imagine what it feels like to receive long-awaited news from your lawyers or the court only to learn that nobody is buying your claim of innocence. Worse still, what must it feel like to be rejected by an innocence organization and to have never gotten your day in court?
Of course, these rejections are bound to happen. There are simply not enough resources for any organization to accommodate all who apply. In many cases, actual innocence does not come with solid proof. Innocent people are rejected as a result. As members of the innocence community, we should be careful not to add insult to injury, as I believe was done here, by suggesting that any organization’s review of a rejected applicant’s case is the final word on that individual’s claim of innocence. It is bad enough to be rejected, let’s not rob the innocent of their hope that one day they’ll find a believer.
Note: I’m a huge fan and regular follower of the Wrongful Convictions Blog. The portion I take issue with appears below. The rest of the article and their other articles are well worth the read!
We were also able to save prosecutors and courts a lot of work by weeding out frivolous claims from prisoners. Indeed, the OIP has taken the position that 24 of our nearly 6,000 inmates who have requested our help (or 0.004%) are factually innocent. That means that thousands of inmates in Ohio have had their cases screened by us, and then received a written explanation as to why their post-conviction claim is meritless and shouldn’t be pursued. The number of baseless pro se applications this has saved the courts and prosecutors from responding to it too high to count.