The Wrong Name Can Land You in Jail

By: Gerri L. Elder

It is one thing to be falsely accused, or even convicted of a crime. It’s entirely another thing to be jailed for crimes you haven’t even been accused of, but that is exactly what happened to a man in Florida.

Marvin Lopez spent 37 days in jail in Orange County, Fla., for crimes he did not commit. You might think that happens to a lot of people, and perhaps it does, but not the way it happened to Lopez.

Lopez went to the court house pay some traffic ticket fines that he owed. While he was there, a computer search showed a Marvin Lopez was wanted on outstanding warrants for DUI and reckless driving. Lopez was thrown in jail.

It turns out, the guy who was really wanted on those outstanding warrants goes by an alias. His alias? Marvin B. Lopez.

So, do you share a name with anyone? That seemed to be the major thing that Marvin Lopez did wrong. He had the same name as someone who skipped out on reckless driving and DUI tickets. He looks nothing like the man who was actually wanted and his defense attorney is furious that a simple fingerprint check was not even done to make sure they had the right guy. Or in this case, to let them know they had the wrong guy.

Instead of checking his fingerprints against the person wanted on the warrants, jail employees kept Marvin Lopez behind bars for nearly six weeks.

Now Lopez is considering filing a lawsuit. His attorney says that this is a clear cut case of negligence on the part of the jail staff.

While in jail, Lopez told officials that they had the wrong guy, but they didn’t believe him. Honestly though, can you imagine how many times they hear that story? It just happened to be true this time and they didn’t bother to check.

Lopez said they did notice that he did not look anything like the man who was wanted on the charges. One of the jailers reportedly even told him that he was a great makeup artist and asked him how he changed his look so drastically.

After Lopez had spent more than a month in jail, a prosecutor finally realized that a mistake had been made when it was time for Lopez’s pre-trial hearing and he was finally released.

Lopez is now spending time with his family in North Carolina and says he is traumatized by being wrongly jailed. He wants Orange County to pay for their mistake and is willing to go to court about it. His attorney is trying to reach a settlement agreement with the county, but if they can not reach an agreement he will file a lawsuit in federal court. If the case is filed in federal court, Lopez’s attorney will seek more than $100,000 in damages.

County Commissioner Bill Segal agrees that the whole thing should have never happened. He said, “The system is in bad need of an overhaul. We don’t want one innocent person to spend a night in jail.”

Marvin B. Lopez, the man who should have been in jail on the outstanding warrants, has still not been located. Surely he is happy to have others serve his time for him.