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Melissa Morales

Other Florida No Crime Exonerations
At about 10 p.m. on October 24, 2018, Martin County Sheriff’s deputy Steven O’Leary stopped 37-year-old Melissa Morales as she rode her bicycle in Stuart, Florida. O’Leary said he stopped her because she had no light on her bicycle.

He searched her purse and found what he later reported to be a “white rocklike substance.” O’Leary told Morales he conducted a field test which was positive for methamphetamine.

O’Leary arrested Morales. Later, at the Martin County Jail, he claimed that he saw another white rock fall from Morales’s pant leg. He reported that this also was positive for methamphetamine in a field test.

Morales was charged with possession of methamphetamine and possession of contraband in the jail.

On December 11, 2018, Morales pled guilty to the charges in Martin County Circuit Court. She was sentenced to six months in jail, ordered to pay $830 in fines and court costs, and her driver’s license was revoked.

On January 15, 2019, O’Leary was fired by the Martin County Sheriff’s office after drug tests conducted on evidence in more than 10 of his drug arrests—including Morales’s case—were negative for the presence of any controlled substances.

The investigation of O’Leary’s conduct began after a prosecutor noticed that lab tests were coming back negative in several of his cases. Although field tests are notoriously unreliable, authorities suspected that O’Leary was falsely claiming to have conducted the field tests when none were conducted at all.

The following day, Morales’s attorney, deputy public defender Shane Manship, filed a motion to withdraw her guilty plea because of the negative lab test. The prosecution agreed to the motion and the conviction was vacated. The prosecution then dismissed the charges and Morales was released.

In July 2019, O'Leary was arrested on 50 charges including official misconduct, falsifying evidence and tampering with evidence.

He pled guilty to the charges on September 30, 2021 and was later sentenced to 13 years in prison. The sheriff’s office said that during O’Leary’s 11 months as a deputy, he made 89 drug-related arrests, 26 of which were thrown out either because O’Leary falsified evidence or the substance in question turned out not to be illegal, including headache medicine, detergent, and mints.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/4/2019
Last Updated: 11/2/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2018
Sentence:6 months
Age at the date of reported crime:37
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No