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In 2002, Brian Banks was a 17-year-old high school football star with a promising future ahead of him. Unfortunately, his life took a drastic turn when he was falsely accused of kidnapping and raping a female classmate. Despite maintaining his innocence, the combination of poor legal counsel, lack of investigative work, and a broken justice system resulted in Banks being convicted and spending over five years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Banks’ story is a powerful example of the injustices that can occur within the criminal justice system. His incredible story of wrongful conviction – and eventual exoneration – is the focus of the latest series of Legal Talk Network’s new “California Innocence Project Podcast”.
In his junior year at Long Beach Poly High, Brian dominated the football field as a linebacker. He had verbally accepted an offer to play at the University of Southern California (USC) with a full ride scholarship. At just 16-years-old, Brian had everything in the world to look forward to; however, all of this came crashing down when he was falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of raping a fellow classmate, Wanetta Gibson.
Although there was no DNA found on the accuser or her clothing, no eye-witness testimony, and no other evidence to support Gibson’s claims, Brian was arrested for the crime. After months of awaiting trial, Banks was urged to take a plea deal by his lawyer, who believed that he would be unable to win his case in court. At just 17-years-old, Brian was being tried as an adult. He faced an impossible decision – either fight the charges against him and risk spending 41 years-to-life in prison, or accept a plea deal for a shorter sentence, and serve time in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Out of fear and pressure from his lawyer, Brian pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to a decade of prison and probation. Brian went to prison on his 18th birthday, marking the first day of what would be a long and challenging five-year prison sentence.
After his release from prison and nearly a decade after the alleged crime, Banks’ accuser reached out to him on social media. She confessed to Brian and his legal team that she had lied. With the help of the California Innocence Project – and his accuser’s recanted testimony – Banks was able to have his conviction overturned in 2012.
Following his exoneration, Banks sought to resume his dream of playing football. In the summer of 2012, Brian received tryouts with several NFL teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and San Francisco 49ers. Banks signed with the Atlanta Falcons on April 3rd, 2013. And although he only played four preseason games with the Falcons before being released, Banks was able to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
Unfortunately, Brian’s story is just one of many. He was a victim of false accusations and wrongful conviction, and lost over five years of his life as a result. His story is a powerful reminder of the importance of fighting for justice, and a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.
By sharing his story, Banks is helping to raise awareness about wrongful convictions, the systemic issues within our criminal justice system that contribute to these injustices, and inspiring others in their fight for freedom.