Defense attorneys representing clients who were convicted in criminal cases are moving to have those cases re-examined and convictions possibly thrown out due to one key element in each case: Tara Reade.
Reade, who also goes by the alias Alexandra McCabe, testified as an expert witness in several California criminal cases over the past decade, offering her experience as a survivor of spousal abuse.
Reade made international headlines in March after she accused presidential candidate and current senator Joe Biden of sexual assault. She repeated the allegation a few weeks later in an interview published by the New York Times. In both interviews, Reade claimed the assault happened while she was working as a campaign staffer at Biden’s Capitol Hill office in the early 1990s. (Biden, who is in the middle of a presidential campaign, denied Reade’s allegation earlier this month.)
As reporters worked through the details of Reade’s allegation, some journalists began fact-checking her time at Biden’s office. Reporters with the PBS NewsHour spoke with more than six dozen people who once worked for Sen. Biden. While some staff members admitted Biden was a “toucher” who sometimes made them feel uncomfortable, no one interviewed by the news organization said Biden had sexually harassed or assaulted them, and all of the former staffers were adamant they had not heard rumors about Biden harassing or abusing others until Reade went pubic with her accusation.
Some reporters dove deeper into Reade’s background, examining her education and work history. One reporter for CNN contacted Ohio-based Antioch University to ask about Reade’s academic record. Though Reade claimed to have received a degree from Antioch University’s Seattle campus, officials with the school said they had no record of her graduating or receiving a degree.
When questioned about her degree status, Reade told reporters she graduated under a special arrangement with Antioch University’s chancellor following a legal name change. An unofficial transcript from Seattle University, where Reade received a separate degree, listed Antioch University as a prior degree-granting institution, according to one report.
That could prove problematic after Reade said, under oath, that she received a degree from Antioch University while testifying as an expert witness in dozens of cases brought in Monterey County, California. Defense attorneys there are now combing through cases connected to Reade’s testimony to see if they can be re-opened based upon these new media revelations.
In one case, Reade not only swore under oath that she received a degree from Antioch University but also claimed to be currently working as a substitute teacher. Employment records obtained by the Times showed she was actually working as a staff assistant.
During the trial, defense attorney Roland Soltesz objected, saying Reade’s work experience didn’t qualify her as an expert witness. The judge overruled the objection. Soltesz’s client was sentenced to several life terms after being convicted of attempted murder, armed robbery and arson, the Times said.
Now Soltesz is seeking to have that case, and possibly others, re-examined.
“People have been convicted based upon this, and that’s wrong,” Soltesz told the newspaper.
While making a false statement during sworn testimony in court is a crime, prosecutors must prove that the person who made the false statement did so with knowledge and intent to deceive. Those elements can be difficult to prove, legal experts say.
But defense attorneys could have an easier time pursuing a reversal of a verdict if they can show that Reade exaggerated her education and employment history — qualifications that once earned her a spot in the witness stand.
“An expert can only testify in certain circumstances,” Sacramento criminal defense attorney Mark Reichel told the New York Times. “One of them is that they have expertise above the regular person. The jury is entitled to hear your qualifications.”
Inauthentic qualifications by an expert witness not only undermines the criminal justice system, it opens the door for a conviction to be overturned. If that happens, some cases may be remanded for a new trial, while other defendants could be set free.
In an interview with the Times, Berkley Brannon, the chief deputy assistant district attorney for Monterey County, said his office would work to contact district attorneys about cases in which Reade testified if it could be proven that she did not earn a degree as she claimed under oath.
“That would absolutely be of concern to us, and it’s something that the defense attorneys would need to know about,” Brannon said. “We don’t want people that we call lying about anything.”
The New York Times:
“As Tara Reade’s Expert Witness Credentials Are Questioned, So Are Verdicts”
The Monterey County Weekly:
“Convictions Could Be Challenged as Defense Attorneys Question Tara Reade’s Credentials”