As we celebrate Pride Month, it is important to acknowledge the issues in the criminal legal system that impact LGBTQIA2S+ communities and can even lead to wrongful convictions.
According to a 2016 report by the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress, LGBTQIA2S+ people are disproportionately incarcerated in state and federal prisons. The percentage of incarcerated LGBTQIA2S+ people is nearly double the percentage of people who identified as LGBTQIA2S+ in 2012.
“Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People” attributes this to three factors: (1) discrimination and stigma, (2) discriminatory enforcement of laws that criminalize LGBTQIA2S+ people, and (3) harmful policing strategies and tactics that push LGBTQIA2S+ people into the criminal legal system. The issues were present in the three wrongful conviction cases below:
The San Antonio Four
In 1997 and 1998, four women in San Antonio, Texas, were wrongfully convicted of raping two girls. Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez became known as the San Antonio Four. These women, featured in the documentary “Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four” directed by Deborah Esquenazi, were found innocent in 2016 after serving nearly 15 years in prison.
The Innocence Project of Texas filed for post-conviction relief based on two key pieces of evidence that led to the release of the four women. One of the girls recanted her statement and testified that she had been forced by her family to accuse her aunt, Ramirez, of sexual abuse. The medical examiner who testified against the women also recanted. She said that her testimony—that the girls showed physical signs of sexual assault—was scientifically inaccurate.
Miguel Castillo was arrested for murdering and dismembering his neighbor Rene Chinea, a 50-year-old gay Cuban immigrant, in Chicago in 1989.
The case against Castillo was based almost entirely on a confession that police fabricated after beating him for refusing to confess, according to Northwestern Law. The fabricated confession said Castillo had killed Chinea because he had cheated on him. But no evidence supported that he was in a relationship with Chinea. Castillo was wrongfully convicted.
“This belief was based on the premise that gay men who are lovers or roommates are ‘particularly violent’ when they fight, often engaging in gruesome-type, serious cuttings, and it shaped the investigation from the moment police responded to the scene,” wrote the authors of “Queer (In)Justice.”
A retrial resulted in his exoneration in 2001. In addition to revealing the coerced confession, Castillo presented new alibi evidence proving he could not have committed the crime. He later sued the Chicago Police Department for framing him for murder and won $1.2 million.
Monica Jones was convicted of “manifesting prostitution,” a misdemeanor according to the city of Phoenix, Arizona, in May 2013. She was arrested by an undercover police officer from who she accepted a ride. In the car, she was hassled about prices and services. Jones told the officer, “I’m not even doing anything.”
Her arrest has been attributed to “walking while trans,” the profiling of trans women of color as sex workers. The Innocence Project describes the law is “ambiguous” in an article titled “Monica Jones and the Problem of ‘Walking While Trans.'”
“According to the law, someone who is talking to passersby or waves at a car could be deemed as trying to solicit sex,” the article reads. “However, while these actions could be construed as the beginning of sex solicitation, they are mostly just a part of normal, day-to-day life.”
A Superior Court judge said lower courts denied Jones a fair trial by using her past prostitution charges against her. Jones’ conviction was vacated in 2015.