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Lawrence Martin

Other California Exonerations
On September 18, 1997, a campus police officer at San Jose State University in San Jose, California, observed Lawrence Martin as he walked past a Taco Bell near the university. For reasons that aren’t clear in the court record, the officer struck up a conversation with Martin, who was 38 years old.

The officer asked Martin whether he was carrying any weapons. Martin said he was and showed the officer a knife he was carrying up the sleeve of his jacket. The knife was open and had a two-and-a-half-inch blade. The officer also asked Martin whether he was in possession of any drugs, and Martin showed the officer a small baggie containing a “usable amount of marijuana.”

The officer would later testify that Martin was cooperative throughout the entire encounter. Martin was arrested and charged with possession of a concealed dirk or dagger, and possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.

Martin’s trial in Santa Clara County Superior Court began and ended on May 11, 1998. The officer testified that Martin’s knife could remain open in a locked position. To close the knife, the officer said, a person had to hold it in one hand and assert pressure on the back of the blade with the other hand. The knife did not have a release mechanism.

The jury convicted Martin of both possession charges. Because of previous felony convictions, Martin was sentenced under California’s so-called “Three Strikes Law” to 25 years to life in prison.

On June 2, 2016, the California Supreme Court overturned the weapons-possession conviction of Emmanuel Castillo-Lopez. The court said that the Swiss army knife Castillo-Lopez possessed wasn’t a dirk or dagger because it didn’t lock. The knife’s tension-spring mechanism didn’t count.

Two months after that ruling, on August 22, 2016, Martin filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the weapons conviction in Santa Clara County Superior Court. The writ was granted on December 15, 2017, and Martin was released from prison.

Martin then filed a claim for compensation with the California Victim Compensation Board on December 18, 2019. On April 20, 2020, the compensation board approved his claim, stating that Martin was factually innocent of the weapons-possession charge and awarded him $1 million in compensation.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/3/2021
Last Updated: 2/24/2023
County:Santa Clara
Most Serious Crime:Weapon Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Drug Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:1997
Sentence:25 to Life
Race/Ethnicity:Don't Know
Age at the date of reported crime:38
Contributing Factors:False Confession
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No