December 6, 2023

Munger, Tolles & Olson Team Overturns the Conviction of C.J. Rice After He Spent Nearly 12 Years in Prison

Munger, Tolles & Olson, along with co-counsel Karl Schwartz of Wiseman & Schwartz and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, have successfully overturned the conviction of C.J. Rice—a Philadelphia man who was wrongfully convicted of attempted murder in 2013 after his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel was violated.

On November 27, 2023, a federal judge in Pennsylvania granted a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed on Mr. Rice’s behalf and overturned his conviction. In granting the petition, the judge agreed with MTO and co-counsel that Mr. Rice’s attorney “rendered ineffective assistance” during a 2013 jury trial that resulted in his conviction. Mr. Rice, who has spent nearly 12 years in prison, was sentenced to 30 to 60 years for a 2011 shooting in which no one was seriously injured. Now, as a result of the habeas petition, Mr. Rice could soon be a free man.

After reviewing the 2013 trial record, MTO and co-counsel found that Mr. Rice’s attorney had, among other things, inexplicably stipulated to evidence that provided a motive for the charged shooting when there was no evidence of any such motive. In September 2023, the Philadelphia District Attorney conceded that there was no evidence to establish a motive for the shooting and that habeas relief should be granted based on trial counsel’s inexplicable stipulation. The State of Pennsylvania will now have 180 days to either retry Mr. Rice or release him.

Mr. Rice’s case has garnered significant media attention, largely due to the reporting of CNN’s Jake Tapper. The case was brought to Mr. Tapper’s attention by his father, Dr. Theodore Tapper, who was Mr. Rice’s pediatrician. Dr. Tapper testified that it was unlikely that Mr. Rice would have been physically capable of carrying out the 2011 shooting, considering he was recovering from a separate shooting and could barely walk at the time.

An MTO team of Don Verrilli, Ginger Anders, Jing Jin, and Alex Werner worked together with Mr. Schwartz, and the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project in representing Mr. Rice during his habeas proceedings.

Mr. Rice’s case has garnered significant media attention in national news publications such as CNN, The Atlantic, The Philadelphia Inquirer and many more.

About MTO’s Pro Bono Practice

Contributing to the community through pro bono work and other forms of volunteerism is a core tenet of the culture at Munger, Tolles & Olson. The firm was one of the charter signatories to the American Bar Association’s pro bono challenge and consistently devotes more than three percent of all attorney time to delivering needed pro bono legal assistance. We are proud to be one of the select group of firms to have received the ABA’s coveted Pro Bono Publico Award.

Learn more about our pro bono practice.