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Dawn Draper-Roberts

Other Misdemeanor Exonerations with Official Misconduct
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On March 8, 2014, 50-year-old Dawn Draper-Roberts, an assistant manager at a Michaels craft store in Draper, Utah, found a customer’s purse in a shopping cart. Instead of putting it in the store’s safe, she put in the store’s classroom where customers took crafting classes. The room had locking cabinets and that was where Draper-Roberts was working that day.

The customer returned when she realized her purse was missing and asked three other employees if they had seen it, but none had. The acting manager used the store’s radio headset system to ask if any employees had found the purse, and no one responded. The customer left her contact information and went home.

At home, the customer used the Find My iPhone application on her iPad to locate her iPhone, which was in her purse. When the application showed the phone was in the craft store, she activated the phone’s alarm. Her husband called police and the woman returned to the store.

At about the same time, Draper-Roberts brought the purse, from which the alarm could be heard, to the acting store manager, who put it in store’s safe. Police arrived and began investigating. The customer arrived and got her purse, which still contained more than $800 in cash. Nothing had been taken from it, she confirmed.

Nonetheless, Draper-Roberts was arrested and charged with misdemeanor theft. She went to trial in Salt Lake County District Court in September 2014. Prior to jury selection, the prosecution said it would call the store manager, the police officer who questioned Draper-Roberts at the store, and the customer.

However, after giving opening statements to the jury, the prosecution said it would no longer call the store manager and instead would call the acting store manager. The defense objected, saying the late disclosure was improper, but the judge allowed the witness to testify. The acting store manager told the jury that she asked Draper-Roberts about the purse when the customer first reported it missing, and Draper-Roberts denied ever seeing it. The prosecution contended that this showed that Draper-Roberts intended to steal the purse but was foiled by the iPhone alarm.

The officer who investigated the case testified that Draper-Roberts told him she found the purse in an aisle, although the store surveillance video showed she found it in a cart near the store entrance. The officer told the jury that Draper-Roberts was uncooperative and hostile, acted suspiciously, and refused initially to give her name. Draper-Roberts, he said, “really didn’t want to talk to me about…where she found the purse.” Instead, the officer said, “She just started asking me questions.”

However, during the officer’s testimony, it became clear that the prosecution possessed video from the officer’s body camera. The video had not been disclosed to the defense. The judge denied a motion for a mistrial, but did recess the case at 2:45 p.m. to allow the defense time to review the video and then resumed the trial the following morning.

The video showed that Draper-Roberts was in fact cooperative with the officer. She was not hostile or suspicious, nor did she start asking him questions, and she immediately walked to the area where she said she found the purse.

Draper-Roberts’s defense attorney asked that the store manager--who the prosecution had decided not to call as a witness--be allowed to testify for the defense. The defense attorney note that during his opening statement he told the jury that he expected the store manager to testify that he had known Draper-Roberts for 10 years and that she was a good employee who never caused any problems. But the judge denied that motion. The witness was released and left the courthouse.

On September 14, 2014, the jury convicted Draper-Roberts of misdemeanor theft. She was sentenced to probation.

In July 2016, the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that Draper-Roberts received an unfair trial because the prosecution failed to disclose the police body cam video until the middle of trial, noting that the video “directly contradicts the officer’s testimony.”

The court held that the trial judge had erroneously allowed the acting store manager to testify, in part because the defense did not discover until after the trial that the acting manager had a prior felony conviction for retail theft. The court said, “It seems likely that if (Draper-Roberts) had had the opportunity to fully prepare for the acting manager’s testimony, she would have discovered and sought admission of the acting manager’s theft conviction…to impeach the acting manager’s testimony.”

And finally, the court ruled that the trial judge was wrong to prohibit the defense from calling the store manager as a witness. The court noted that the judge appeared to have made the decision based on “what appears to be a significant, though nonlegal, factor.” The judge had said at the time he was going to prohibit the witness because “like I said, we need to be done by 4:00.”

In sum, the court declared, “These adverse rulings prejudiced Defendant to the point that our confidence in the jury’s verdict is undermined.”

In February 2017, the case was dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/19/2017
State:Utah
County:Salt Lake
Most Serious Crime:Theft
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2014
Convicted:2014
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Probation
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:50
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No