cover art for Author & Lawyer Justin Brooks: California Innocence Project

John Edmonds Kozma's Unimpressed Podcast

Author & Lawyer Justin Brooks: California Innocence Project

Season 3, Ep. 102

Attorney Justin Brooks is known for the extensive legal work he has done over many years to overturn wrongful criminal convictions. He has dedicated his career to this cause and currently serves as the Director and Co-Founder of the California Innocence Project. He has practiced in the area of criminal defense in many states, including Michigan and Illinois. He has also taught courses at Georgetown Law Center and Thomas M. Cooley Law School and is presently a tenured professor at California Western School of Law. Justin Brooks is also the author of the only legal case book focused on the topic of wrongful convictions.

Justin has received a number of accolades throughout his career, including the designation as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in California by the Los Angeles Daily Journal, as well as receiving recognition as “Lawyer of the Year” in 2010 and 2012 by California Lawyer Magazine. He has also worked in Latin America to train lawyers for the past twenty years. As a co-founder of Red Inocente, an organization that is devoted to founding and supporting various innocence organizations in Latin America, he continues to devote his career to the cause of overturning wrongful criminal convictions.

The Exoneration of Brian Banks

Justin Brooks and The California Innocence Project worked tirelessly to overturn the wrongful conviction of Brian Banks, who was charged with rape and kidnapping after a consensual sexual encounter. At the time, Brian Banks was only seventeen years old and was widely considered to have a bright future playing football in the NFL. The false rape accusation drastically changed the course of his life, as he was faced with the difficult decision of choosing whether to proceed to trial and risk forty-one years to life in prison if found guilty or to accept a plea deal for just over five years in prison. Brian chose to accept the plea deal, which also came with the cost of destroying his dream of playing football and requiring him to register as a sex offender.

Together with The California Innocence Project, attorney Justin Brooks presented evidence of Brian Banks’ innocence of these crimes. Evidence in his favor included the alleged victim stating that she fabricated the story. After another review of the evidence, the District Attorney’s Office agreed that Banks was wrongfully convicted; and in May of 2012, a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court reversed his conviction.

Banks’ story has a particularly happy ending. After his exoneration, Justin Brooks spoke out to the press on behalf of his client and asked NFL teams to give Brian a chance at playing football. Shortly after, Brian received calls from six different NFL teams expressing interest.

Ultimately, Brian Banks played for the Cincinnati Bengals during one NFL season. Though his time playing in the NFL was brief; following the 2013 football season, Brian accepted a position working for the NFL’s Department of Operations in the replay center. In this position, he also helped contribute to the league’s social media.

Brian’s story garnered such public interest that his story was made into a film which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in September of 2018. The movie features Academy Award-nominated actor Greg Kinnear playing the role of Professor Justin Brooks, and will premiere in the US in August 2019.

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