Part of the horror of what happened to Suzanne Wooten is the realization that if the justice system failed so miserably for her, it could happen to anyone.
Wooten lived a nightmare: Winning an election by a landslide to unseat an incumbent judge, only to be allegedly targeted by political rivals, wrongfully convicted of nine felonies, cast down from her district court bench and stripped of her license to practice law.
Finally after six years living the bad dream, Wooten this year found complete redemption in May when a court acquitted her of all charges, declared her actually innocent, and she got back her law license in June.
Some things, Wooten will never get back. She used to believe if she paid her taxes, followed the speed limit, refused to drink and drive, or followed election campaign laws, she would be safe and wouldn’t get in legal trouble.
“The biggest horror is taking away from me and my family the sense of security we have,” Wooten said. “When something like this happens to you, my sense of being safe even just walking down the street—it’s gone, it’s destroyed.”
Wrongful conviction stories always loom large in the public consciousness because of the deep-seated need to believe that the justice system will get it right—convict the guilty, exonerate the innocent. When things go terribly wrong, people struggle to find some reason, so that they won’t have to believe that a wrongful conviction could happen to them, too.
How did the system fail Suzanne Wooten?