Charles "CJ" Rice

CJ's Story

Charles "CJ" Rice -- Free after 12 Years of Wrongful Incarceration

On March 18, 2024, Charles "CJ" Rice was exonerated after a 12-year wrongful conviction. The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas granted the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss all charges against him. CJ was convicted of a 2011 shooting in Philadelphia that injured four people. A federal court vacated his conviction in November 2023, and he has been home on bail since December; the Commonwealth had 180 days to decide whether to retry him or dismiss the charges. 

How did this happen?

CJ's Wrongful Arrest and Conviction

On the evening of September 25, 2011, Latrice Johnson was sitting on the steps of her mother's home in South Philadelphia with other family members when two men came around the corner and began shooting in her direction. Unfortunately, four people, including Johnson and a six-year-old girl, were injured. Johnson called 911 and described the suspects as two men running away wearing hoodies and black sweatpants, but she could not identify them.

The next day, detectives interviewed victim, LaToya Lane in her hospital room. She identified Tyler Linder, who became CJ's co-defendant, as one of the shooters but could not identify the other. Detectives then interviewed Johnson in Lane's hospital room. Johnson was shown a photo array and identified CJ Rice as one of the shooters that she saw running away. Though it had been some years since she'd last seen him, Johnson was familiar with CJ from him being friends with her son when they were younger. Notably, Johnson said that the person she identified as CJ was wearing a hoodie with the hood pulled up at the time of the crime and that she could see his full face and long braids out of the side of the hood. However, CJ's arrest photograph shows him with cornrows tight against his head. Despite this and although no physical evidence tied either suspect to the shooting, police attempted to build a case against CJ and Tyler Linder. 

Before trial, the Commonwealth indicated its intent to present motive evidence that the two boys had engaged in the September 25, 2011, shooting in retaliation for CJ's shooting a few weeks earlier on the evening of September 3rd. Although no one was ever arrested for that shooting, the Commonwealth suggested that one of the victims of the September 25th shooting had been involved in the shooting that injured CJ. At a pre-trial hearing, the court indicated that evidence for this suggested motive was not strong and would not be admissible at trial. And yet, counsel for CJ inexplicably agreed to a stipulation allowing the motive evidence to be presented against him. This suggestion of motive and the sole faulty eyewitness identification of CJ led to his conviction on four counts for attempted murder. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. Underscoring the weakness of the Commonwealth's case, the jury deliberations were lengthy, and Linder was acquitted.   

CJ's Quest to Prove His Innocence

CJ maintained his innocence for more than a decade. However, his trial and early attempts at proving his innocence were severely hindered by the ineffective assistance of his attorney at the time. She made limited contact with him, failed to secure his phone records or establish his alibi in any meaningful way, and failed to secure medical records that could have strengthened testimony about his physical condition after that early September 2011 shooting. Witnesses to the September 25th shooting said that the two perpetrators ran away from the crime scene; Dr. Theodore Tapper, CJ's pediatrician who had examined his wounds just days before, said that he was "very dubious" that CJ "could walk standing up straight, let alone run with any degree of speed" at that time. Even Dr. Tapper did not know at the time that CJ was suffering more that just the bullet and surgical wounds; he was also recovering from a fractured pelvis. 

Although his early attempts at seeking post-conviction relief were turned down, CJ persisted and ultimately filed a successful federal habeas petition in December 2022. In the Commonwealth's response to his petition, which cited several claims of the ineffective assistance of CJ's counsel and problems with the eyewitness testimony, the Commonwealth agreed with the severity of CJ's attorney's error in stipulating to letting the jury hear the otherwise inadmissible motive evidence. Indeed, the Commonwealth's investigation of the case uncovered an email from the trial prosecutor acknowledging that he did not "have any hard evidence of this" alleged motive and from his colleagues confirming that "it's all rank hearsay." In light of this, the Commonwealth stated that, "given counsel's serious error at trial, the Commonwealth no longer has confidence that Rice received 'a trial whose result is reliable.'"

A federal court granted CJ's habeas petition in November 2023, and he was released on bail from SCI Chester in December 2023. The Commonwealth had 180 days to decide whether to retry CJ. On March 18, 2024, the Commonwealth dismissed all charges, and CJ was exonerated. 

Former senior staff attorney Amelia Maxfield led the Project team representing CJ, assisted by Legal Director Nilam Sanghvi and former managing attorney of our Philadelphia office, Ryan Becker. We were honored to work with long-time Project partner and 2011 Hero of Justice Award recipient, Karl Schwartz of Wiseman & Schwartz as well as Donald Verrilli and Ginder Anders of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP. 

CJ's case has drawn national attention in large part because of his lifelong relationship with Dr. Tapper, father of journalist Jake Tapper of CNN. Learn more at the link below, where we discuss the factors contributing to CJ's wrongful conviction and round up current coverage of this interesting case. 

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