Wrongly Convicted Database Record


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William Broughton



Obsenity Related Charge


5 years and $500 fine

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Summary of Case:

"William Broughton was convicted in March 1900 of mailing an obscene letter to Nash R. Boyles, the City Recorder of Atlanta on Washington's Birthday 1900.[10] The prosecution’s strongest evidence against Mr. Broughton came from an alleged handwriting expert named, Nash R. Boyles, the same Mr. Boyles who received the ‘obscene’ letter. At trial, Mr. Boyles not only appeared as a witness but also qualified as a handwriting expert. Mr. Boyles claimed an expertise simply because “a number of cases involving handwriting had come before him when he was the United States Commissioner in Atlanta.”[11] Mr. Boyles “was able to inform the jury that there were incriminating an unmistakable similarities between the writing in the letter he had received and [a] note Broughton sent to his mother.”[12] Moreover, Mr. Broyles testified that he “could explain [any dissimilarities] by the fact that the defendant was a ‘very sharp, intelligent [individual] and he knew what he was arrested for and he was trying to disguise his handwriting.’”[13] Mr. Broyle’s testimony was supported by two additional experts.[14] Surprisingly, not long after Mr. Broughton was convicted, Mr. Boyles received another obscene letter. As Mr. Broyles read the letter “[i]t appeared to him that the similarity in handwriting that convicted Broughton was as nothing compared to the likeness between the chirography in the obscene letter and in the [other] letters.”[15] Another individual eventually confessed to authoring and sending the obscene letters. To put it bluntly, the government’s handwriting experts got it wrong. (Source: http://www.law-forensic.com/final_intro.htm#_ftnref10) Based on the new evidence Broughton was pardoned and released on May 18, 1900."

Conviction Caused By:

False handwriting analysis by three prosecution experts who erroneously identified Mr. Broughton's handwriting as being the same as the writer of an obscene letter.

Innocence Proved By:

"Another obscene letter was received by the same person that received the "obscene" letter Mr. Broughton was convicted of sending through the mail. The handwriting of the second letter matched the first. Eventually another person admitted to being the letter writer. Based on the new evidence Broughton was pardoned and released on May 18, 1900."

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Information Source 1:

"Convicting the Innocent: Sixty-Five Actual Errors of Criminal Justice, Edwin M. Borchard, 1932, pp. 28-31"

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Innocents Database Created and Maintained by Hans Sherrer innocents@forejustice.org

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