A 17-year-old teenager from Silver Spring, Md., can get on with his life, thanks to the efforts of a member of the Columbus School of Law’s adjunct faculty and a recent graduate.
For the youth in question, it very nearly went the other way.
In February 2012, Carlos Alberto Dominguez was among three young men arrested and charged with the rape of a 17 year-old girl in Gaithersburg, Md. Two of the accused pled guilty.
Dominguez maintained his innocence and retained John Sharifi, a 2002 alumnus of Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law, as counsel. Sharifi is an adjunct lecturer teaching Evidence at the law school and also serves as interim director of Catholic University’s Innocence Project.
In turn, Sharifi recruited Rahul Bhanot (left), Class of 2011, to assist with the defense.
“Rahul did a lot of work and helped with the motions,” said Sharifi. “He had his finger on the pulse of the trial.”
When the case reached trial last August, Dominguez was charged as an adult with two counts of first degree rape, a sex offense, and a handgun offense. The maximum sentence was life imprisonment and sentencing guidelines were 30-60 years of incarceration upon conviction.
But “upon conducting an investigation, we learned that the facts were much different than what the State alleged,” said Sharifi. After multiple days of deliberation the jury was deadlocked and the trial ended in a hung jury.
The case was tried again in late October. Sharifi and Bhanot concentrated on the cross-exam, making sure that the new jurors heard a different narrative this time around. This time, the jury acquitted him on all counts.
“Immediately after the verdict, the kid was released from custody and we greeted him as he walked out a free man. He is now back with his family. It was quite a drama,” recalls Sharifi.
The founder of the Law Offices of John N. Sharifi, LLC, says the experience has given him even greater appreciation of the purpose of the Innocence Project.
“Carlos was completely relieved. I don’t think you fully realize what you’ve been through unless it happens to you,” he said.
An account of the case can be found in the Oct. 26, 2012, edition of the Silver Spring Gazette.