Freed, Philadelphia, handcuffs

CJ Rice Is Free After Wrongful Conviction Is Overturned, Now He Wants To Help Others

C.J. Rice was wrongfully convicted of a shooting that injured four people when he was 17 years-old.

In 2011, 17 year-old C.J. Rice was arrested for a crime that he did not commit. Thirteen years later, he has been exonerated by the state. Now 30 years old, the Philadelphia native hopes to open a new chapter in his life by becoming a paralegal. 

Charles Rice, nicknamed C.J., was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison for a shooting in Philadelphia that left four people injured, according to The New York Times. He was convicted in 2013, despite what the state now says was “ineffective assistance” from his legal counsel and a failure to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt. 

In Nov. 2023, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania overturned his conviction and sentence after Rice filed a habeas relief petition. The district attorney for the City of Philadelphia, Larry Krasner, later declined to retry Rice, and instead moved to clear him of all charges. Judge James Eisenhower signed off on the motion on Monday, March 18.

The District Attorney’s office issued a statement about the monumental decision that same day.

“I want to thank our Federal Litigation Unit and Gun Violence Task Force for their work toward achieving a just resolution of this matter,” said Krasner. “Mr. Rice did not receive effective assistance of defense counsel at trial, nor did this office under a prior administration conduct a vigorous investigation of potential alibis.” 

Krasner also acknowledged Rice’s mother Crystal Cooper, who worked as a DAO paralegal at the time of her son’s arrest.

“All defendants are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” he continued. “At minimum, this office should have made sure Mr. Rice had access to competent legal counsel, just as I and all DAO supervisors would if their own children were accused of a crime.”

On Sept. 25, 2011, a shooting attack at a Point Breeze residence injured a group of four people – a gang-affiliated young man as well as his mother, sister, and cousin, according to the district attorney. Witnesses shared that there were one or two gunmen, and that they fled on foot. 

Rice, who had been injured in a non-fatal shooting just days prior and had known the victims for years, was subsequently arrested after police received an anonymous tip implicating a suspect, despite the teenager still having difficulties walking due to his own attack, CNN reported. Rice was selected by one of the four victims out of a police lineup, though the details of this conversation were not recorded. 

Following his arrest, Rice underwent a jury trial in 2013, where he was convicted of four counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault and related offenses. However, he has maintained his innocence over the years. 

Rice’s story has made national headlines. Now, he is looking for a fresh start and has plans to pursue a career as a paralegal, just like his mother. The non-profit Dream Org, which is behind the movement to address mass incarceration, has launched a GoFundMe on Rice’s behalf so that he may begin this next stage of his life.

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