Imagine police imprison you for a crime someone with the same name as you committed. You plead your innocence to the authorities, the judge, and your attorney but to no avail. Days go by, and ultimately, you’re able to prove your innocence, but the threat of being arrested again for someone else’s crime still looms over you. 

That nightmare became a reality for Jabon “James” Barrett this past winter and for David Sosa starting in 2014. Both men were mistakenly arrested and jailed, in one case multiple times, because they shared a name with someone who had an outstanding warrant. Both cases show just how easily someone can be stripped of their rights, and how hard it can be to hold officials accountable for their mistakes. 

Barrett’s ordeal began one night last November when Houston police spotted a gun in his car at a gas station. Despite being a military veteran with no criminal record and a license to carry a gun, Houston police arrested him believing he was someone else. That individual, who went by the alias “James Barrett,” had a decade-old conviction in Florida. Houston authorities made little effort to verify if they had the right man. Instead, they charged Barrett with unlawfully carrying a weapon and later, a more severe charge that carried a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. 

Barrett repeatedly tried to explain he wasn’t the person who police thought he was, but his pleas were ignored. Authorities finally realized their mistake after Barrett’s mother emailed officers a packet of information that included mugshots of the real perpetrator and Barrett—publicly available information that police could have easily accessed themselves. After finally comparing fingerprints between the two men, police released Barrett and prosecutors dropped the charge. But by that time, they had already imprisoned Barrett for six weeks. 

Similarly, police in Martin County, Florida arrested Sosa in November 2014 on an old out-of-state warrant for a different David Sosa with a different age, height, weight, social security number, and tattoos. The innocent Sosa was arrested and detained for three hours before ultimately being let go. But, four years later, the nightmare happened again. This time officers—from the same police department, executing the same warrant—arrested Sosa, impounded his truck, and threw him in jail for three days. 

After his ordeals, Sosa attempted to sue the police for the unlawful arrest. Initially Sosa was able to overcome the officers’ argument that they were entitled to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields government officials from being held liable when they violate constitutional rights. However, in 2023, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Sosa did not have a claim against the officers. The court ruled Sosa’s detention based on mistaken identity “gives rise to no claim under the United States Constitution,” because it only “lasted three days.” 

A group of men also named David Sosa teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) after that ruling to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the other Sosa’s case against the officers. Unfortunately, the court declined to hear his case, meaning anytime he or the more than 900 other David Sosa step foot in Florida, Georgia, or Alabama, they risk being arrested and jailed without any remedy, as long as police hold them for “only” three days. 

In both cases reckless policing resulted in innocent men being incarcerated for prolonged periods. This is why accountability matters. When government officials carelessly abuse their power and disregard the facts available to them, they should be held accountable. It shouldn’t matter whether someone is mistakenly arrested and held in jail for three hours, three days, or 47 days—even a temporary violation of someone’s constitutional rights is still a violation of their rights. But until the Supreme Court decides to address the issue of qualified immunity, authorities will continue to escape responsibility for jailing individuals in cases of mistaken identity.

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The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest law firm. Our mission is to end widespread abuses of government power and secure the constitutional rights that allow all Americans to pursue their dreams. IJ has represented individuals who faced retaliatory code enforcement for public comments they made, were arrested for posting jokes about their local police departments on social media, or had baseless lawsuits filed against them because of their criticisms of government officials. If you feel the government has abused your constitutional rights, tell us about your case. Visit  

About the Institute for Justice  
Through strategic litigation, training, communication, activism, legislative outreach and research, the Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals can control their destinies as free and responsible members of society. IJ litigates to secure economic liberty, educational choice, private property rights, freedom of speech and other vital individual liberties, and to restore constitutional limits on the power of government.