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Court Dismisses Unjust Conviction Claim in Movie Script Forgery Case



It was just a few days before the nationwide release of "The Cell," starring Jennifer Lopez when Shamel Smith surfaced claiming he was the screenwriter and demanding from the movie's producer that he be paid $250,000 or he'd seek an injunction. Turns out he wasn't the screenwriter, he got indicted for forgery, convicted by a jury and spent a year in state prison. Technically, though, signing one's name to a screenplay written by someone else is not the type of document contemplated under New York's Penal Law Section 170.10 (referring to writings that purport to be deeds, wills, contracts, public records and the like). So, Smith's conviction was reversed (People v. Smith, 306 A.D.2d 225; Appellate Division, 1st Dept., 2003) and he was set free.

And then he sued the state under the Unjust Conviction Act which provides that people who prove they are innocent and were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned may recover damages against the state. That case went to trial and has now been dismissed.

The problem for Smith was that his criminal conviction was reversed on a mere technicality and he could not prove he was in fact innocent (a requirement under the statute). To the contrary, the judge found that all of the facts at trial indicated that Smith had taken the movie script and inserted his name to it and attempted to extort money from the producer.

And too, the judge noted that Smith had a prior history of two felony convictions for forgery (one involving a $5,000,000 bank theft).

 

 


Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.