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Joe Romeo

Other Wayne County, Michigan CIU exonerations
On February 24, 2005, police in Detroit, Michigan arrested 55-year-old Joe Romeo on charges of possession of marijuana, cocaine, and a firearm after the officers said they responded to neighborhood complaints of drug dealing from Romeo’s home.

Prior to trial, Romeo’s attorney moved to suppress the evidence, claiming the search was illegal. Police officers testified they went to the home with an arrest warrant for Romeo for possession with intent to deliver marijuana. The officer claimed they were acting on information supplied by neighbors. The warrant was issued in error, however, and was supposed to be for Romeo’s brother. That warrant was dismissed shortly after Romeo was arrested.

The officers testified that no one answered a knock on the front door. One officer went to a side door and spotted someone peek their head out and then disappear. A few minutes later, Romeo came to the side door and he was arrested.

One officer stayed with Romeo while the other searched the house. The officer said he searched to see if there was anyone else inside who might pose a threat. In a bedroom, the officer said he saw marijuana in plain view. Meanwhile, a search warrant for the house had been obtained and other officers arrived. During this search, officers found a substantial amount of marijuana—24 grams—as well as cocaine and a firearm.

Romeo claimed the large amount of marijuana and the cocaine belonged to his brother. He said the small amount of marijuana found in the bedroom was a keepsake from the 1980s.

One officer testified that the cocaine and the large amount of marijuana were packaged in a manner consistent with a sale or recreational use. The motion to suppress the evidence was denied.

Subsequently, the gun charge was dismissed.

In July 2005, Romeo went to trial in Wayne County Circuit Court. He waived his right to a jury trial and chose to have Circuit Court Judge Michael Talbot decide the case. The officers testified similarly to their pretrial testimony, and on July 19, 2005, Romeo was convicted. He was sentenced to two years probation. Because of the conviction, Romeo, who had been legally living in the U.S., was deported to his native Italy.

In February 2007, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. The court noted, “The amount of drugs uncovered in defendant’s home is significant.” The court said this included marijuana found in a cigar box, glass jars, and various boxes. Some of it was wrapped in plastic and aluminum. Some was in glass burette-type objects and stuffed into jars. “The amount, as well as the packaging, suggests an intent to deliver,” the court said. “Further, there was also various drug paraphernalia in the bedroom, including a scale, several marijuana pipes and thousands of screens.”

In 2018, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office created a Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) to examine claims of wrongful conviction. Subsequently, Romeo and his sister requested that the CIU re-investigate his case. The brother had died, but Romeo and his sister said that before his death, he admitted the drugs were his. Romeo continued to pursue overturning his conviction because he wanted to return to the U.S.

The CIU investigation showed that there was no evidence that neighbors had made reports to police, indicating that the police were not truthful about why they went there and initially searched without consent. Moreover, when Romeo was arrested, he had no history of drug use and no arrests at all. His brother, however, had a criminal history and became addicted to drugs after he survived a gunshot wound.

On July 12, 2021, Valerie Newman, the head of the CIU, moved to vacate Romeo’s conviction. The motion was granted and the case was dismissed, paving the way for Romeo to seek to return to the U.S.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/2/2021
Last Updated: 8/2/2021
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Age at the date of reported crime:55
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No