Man Spent 5 Years In Prison Because Hertz Wouldn’t Produce The Receipt That Proved His Innocence

A Michigan man spent 5 years in jail for murder when all it would have taken to prove his innocence was a receipt from Hertz.

Herbert Alford had been charged with shooting a man, but the Hertz receipt proves he couldn’t have done it. The crime occurred on October 18, 2011 at 2:54 p.m. but Hertz processed his rental just 6 minutes later at the airport. The killing did not occur near the airport.

Alford was convicted and sentenced to 30 to 60 years behind bars. He fought Hertz for years for a copy of the rental receipt and after he spent five of those 30-to-60 years confined, and after “multiple court orders and subpoenas” his conviction has finally been overturned on the basis of the Hertz receipt. Hertz erroneously maintained that the records had been destroyed, but when a judge ordered Hertz to appear in court they finally produced it.

The man’s lawyer has filed suit against Hertz. Their delay led to his wrongful conviction and losing years of his life. As his attorney puts it,

Hertz Corporation has a fully staffed legal department, so there is absolutely no reason for the company to completely ignore subpoenas and court orders for years while an innocent man languished in prison.

But Hertz’s bankruptcy complicates whether he might recover anything.

I’ve written extensively about Hertz sending people to jail for stealing rental cars they’ve returned. The common factor seems to be switching out of the originally-assigned vehicle, or extending a rental, where Hertz employees didn’t properly complete the paperwork for the transaction.

One customer was held in jail for 40 days over a rental that occurred eight years earlier Another reported renting a car that Hertz had already reported stolen. It clearly wasn’t stolen because they had it in their possession and rented it.

But here Hertz had exculpatory records and failed to produce them for five years. When deciding whom to rent from consider that Hertz doesn’t make for a very good alibi. As Alford’s attorney puts it,

When Hertz had the power to help an innocent man — and their customer, no less — to be reunited with his family, they instead let him sit in prison for years… “They simply couldn’t be troubled to help Herbert Alford’s search for justice — not when he asked, and not even when the courts asked. The Hertz policy of callous inaction is simply reprehensible.

(HT: @barry1levine)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. This guy needs to get PAID. Could a court establish a constructive trust for him? Doing so would put him ahead of many of Hertz’ creditors.

  2. This sounds like a travesty and I truly feel bad for the man and believe Hertz should be held liable, but for a moment, just take this hypothetical, and completely plausible, scenario:

    The man rents the car in his name. He then gives lends the car to someone else to a friend/acquaintance/family member return it to the renting location. Man then commits crime around the time the rental is returned.

    Given that rental companies don’t check id at the time the vehicle is returned, and someone at a high-volume location at an airport is unlikely to remember the face of everyone returning the car on a particular day, the only way you’d be able to say for sure that the original renter was the one who returned the vehicle was if you had clear video footage from the rental location.

    Just saying that things aren’t always as clear-cut as they seem.

  3. Someone needs to make a reverse OJ Simpson Hertz commercial where OJ flies *out* of the driver’s seat of a convertible, through the air, and lands in a jail cell.

  4. Sorry nsx, you’re too late on that one. But I can see an ad based on the old, “Let Hertz Put You in the Driver’s Seat” to one “put you in a prison cell.” I hope he slams them in a suit; did they really think he’d just quietly give up and go away? Kafka lives.

  5. Hertz and car rental companies are definitely responsible, however, it’s the government (cops/prosecutors/judges/jailers) who bears enormous responsibility for blindly arresting people, holding people without release or reasonable bail, and for falsely convicting and sentencing people. It’s bad enough when government enforces laws which infringe on personal freedom like drug laws/speech control/gun control/seat belt laws/tax laws/mask laws. It’s worse when people who did t even do what is claimed are harmed by government.

    It’s the government’s responsibility to take into account these cases involve rental car companies where paperwork gets filed in the hundreds on a daily basis. Cops should verify in great detail before they arrest people. Currently, cops have no personal responsibility. They go home to their families and pensions no matter what. If cops and their families are held personally accountable for errors (whether judicially or by members of the public who take action), those errors would stop. Cops would also stop enforcing laws which criminalize personal freedom (drug laws/seat belt laws/nanny state laws).

    The whole warrant process is convoluted. Government should be required to contact people to inform them of warrants that exist so they can clear up any misunderstandings/errors instead of being arrested at random after a traffic stop 8 years later. Certainly, the government does not believe in the 8th amendment and reasonable bail.

    Hertz should pay some but the government ultimately convicted him. People should have to prove their innocence. The burden of proof falls on the government and the government in this case obviously convicted on false evidence. Prosecutors/judges/jailers and their families should be held personally accountable for this. Each have the ability to stop an injustice and someone being held on not absolute evidence. They often just go through the motions. They earn fat cat salaries and pensions. They don’t care. Hopefully that will change one day. The man is suing Hertz but the evil entity here is the government.

  6. @Jonathan

    Totally reasonable. But the burden is on the prosecution to prove the crime, not the defense’s responsibility. So if he was able to get a receipt in a timely manner that he returned the rental car, then the prosecution would have to prove that it *wasn’t* the defendant who returned the car.

    So in reality, there are two upset parties: the defendant who did not have the opportunity to mount an adequate defense as well as the victim whose chance at justice may have just evaporated because of a faulty prosecution. Bad form all around. Also: Don’t rent from Hertz.

  7. As an old auditor and sometime juror, I agree with what Jonathan says. However, the receipt should have been part of the defense presented at the original trial and the jury should have been allowed to determine if the receipt left reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt. Hertz witholding that receipt denied the defendant a fair trial. On that basis Hertz has lost my business.

  8. Jonathan-

    Your scenario is plausible, but I think Gary has the facts wrong. The linked article, as well as everything I’ve been able to find about the case, says that Alford was renting the car at 3PM, not returning it, which would require identification and a credit card (query why his attorney didn’t subpoena the card issuer when Hertz wasn’t responding). A Hertz employee also testified that she recognized Alford as the person who rented the car (though she had the time wrong, saying it was 3:30 not 3:00).

    FWIW, the prosecutors didn’t make the “it wasn’t him” argument in opposing his bid for a new trial. Instead, they tried to use his cell phone records to show that the timeline still fit even with him renting the car and then committing the murder. The court didn’t agree and remanded the case.
    The prosecutors had the ability to retry him and instead dropped the charges.

  9. The previously convicted man was not thinking. He blames it on Hertz. However, he needed to think about all possible evidence before the trial.

    1. What did he do earlier that day?
    2. How did he go to the airport? Taxi? Bus? Private car?
    3. Was there tracking data from his cell phone?
    4. Was there surveillance cameras at the airport or at Hertz?
    5. Did he buy gas for the rental car? Is there video from the gas station?
    6. Did buy anything using a credit card?
    7. Did he make a reservation online and then got an e-mail confirmation of his reservation?

    If I were facing prison, I would think of many more than these 7 things. He blames Hertz. Hertz is bad. However, he also needed to think out of the box. If he didn’t, who suffers? He does, even if he gets money later.

  10. It was not when the car was returned. He had just rented it 6 minutes before the crime. It returned it. The crime did not happen near the airport. This was cut and dry. That’s why it was overturned. Not based on the time the vehicle was returned.

  11. The court has decided but I ask this…

    The Hertz employee says he rented frequently.

    If he was a gold member wouldn’t the credit card run at the rental reservation time as a preprint – not when he picked up?

    He could show up at 3:30 and they’d hand him the keys with the 3:00 transaction

    The receipt says ‘PREP’ on it next to the 1500 time. How often is a rental pickup exactly on the hour??

  12. Something doesn’t add up. As a lawyer currently admitted to practice in Michigan, I question why defense counsel did not object strenuously to going to trial when a key piece of evidence — the rental receipt — that would have proven an alibi defense, was missing and outstanding. And, if the judge wanted to move forward, I would have made an offer of proof. Possibly ineffective assistance of counsel?

  13. This is disgusting and a complete failure of our justice system. Add me to the growing list of people who will no longer rent from Hertz.

  14. Not to excuse Hertz for ignoring the subpoena, but Greg above has a fascinating theory about a preprint. Frequent Hertz renter realizes he can use a Hertz receipt as an alibi for a crime because it shows a time that isn’t really when the car was picked up…

    That theory actually fits the known facts pretty darn well. It would explain the Hertz employee’s statement that the pickup was at 3:30. It would also explain why the prosecutors say Alford’s cell records show he was traveling “North toward the airport between 2:58 p.m. and 3:07 p.m.” And it would explain why the defense lawyer never subpoenaed the credit card issuer or the airport security camera footage or the security gate time log at the airport, or any of the things other than the Hertz receipt that would have supported the defense timeline here.

    It would be a remarkable self-own if the outcome of this lawsuit is Hertz saying “you know, this receipt doesn’t actually show that the car was picked up at 3 o’clock…”

    Are there any readers who work at Hertz that can interpret the receipt for us?

  15. @Jonathon

    Need to stop watching that white people porn. True Crime Docs, True Crime Podcasts, Law and Order, Millions of other cop, crime shows

  16. John’s post (to @Jonathan) at 6:33 am March 12 contains an offensive racial stereotype that – additionally – doesn’t add value to the discussion. Moderators should delete it.

  17. How about going after the individuals that didn’t comply with producing the receipt? In the end, there were real people who either ignored or obfuscated. They should be identifiable and be made to pay (a LOT) and/or spend some time in the lockup themselves. Take it up the chain of command too. They won’t change until you make it personal and painful.

  18. And then there are the stories about Hertz not processing car rental returns and having the customer arrested for car thief. Not sure if I want to use Hertz ever again.

  19. @Kenneth: Moderators?
    Gary will put the team of moderators (Gary, Gary, Gary, Gary and Gary ) on this right away.

    Have I just missed it or has nobody mentioned John Mellencamp’s “”Hurts So Good” as the new theme song for the company?

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