According to a recent article in the New York Times, a record 149 people in the United States had their convictions overturned in 2015. The National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan’s law school, has recorded a total of 1,733 exonerations since 1989. The majority of last year’s exonerations came from Texas (54) and New York (17) where individual district attorney’s have made efforts to review questionable convictions in their districts. Of the exonerees in 2015, nearly 4 in 10 had been convicted of murder. The reasons for being wrongfully convicted vary widely from case to case but there are some reoccurring themes. Official misconduct , e.g. prosecutorial misconduct, police abuse, or ineffective assistance of counsel, resulted in 65 of the exonerations in 2015 while false confessions led to 27 exonerations. Perhaps most striking, 75 individuals were exonerated, because no crime had even occurred.
Brooklyn’s District Attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, oversees the office’s conviction integrity unit since taking office in 2014. Under his supervision, the unit has cleared 17 men mostly of murder. In one case, three men were cleared of a 1980 arson that led to the death of a mother and her five children. Advances in arson science showed the fire was most likely the result of a tragic accident, and the sole witness in the case was deemed unreliable. Two of the men spent nearly 33 years in prison and their third co defendant died while in prison before he could be exonerated.
The exonerations in Harris County, Texas mainly involved drug cases. 42 people were exonerated of possession convictions last year when retesting showed the substances involved were not in fact drugs.
While the numbers publish by the National Registry are shocking both in the quantity and severity of the charges, they do not include those convictions that are overturned on appeal.
My first experience with this phenomenon of wrongful convictions occurred about 20 years ago. I represented a young man who was convicted of murder charges in Columbus, Ohio. After the jury returned its guilty verdict, the judge complimented the prosecutor on a job well done and commented that the evidence of the defendant’s guilt was overwhelming. The judge then sentenced the defendant to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 years.
In my meetings with my client, he professed his innocence and told me he was nowhere near the location of the homicide the night it occurred.
I filed a notice of appeal and began a review of the trial transcripts which contained the testimony of the witnesses and all the evidence presented at trial. Despite the guilty verdict, my review showed my client was telling the truth. The evidence was not sufficient for the jury to find him guilty and he should have been acquitted. The appellate court heard our appeal and agreed with our argument, finding that the jury committed error and reversing the murder conviction. The state did not retry my client and he was released from prison a free man after having been sentenced to life.
The impact of that case has been profound in my practice. A criminal defendant who was indicted by a grand jury, prosecuted, convicted by a jury of 12, with the judge in agreement, and sentenced to life in prison was later released because the appellate court did not believe the evidence existed for his conviction.
Although the American criminal justice system is the best in the world, innocent people can be convicted of serious offenses. A few months ago, I represented a young man, who was a student at The Ohio State University. He was charged with rape without the investigating detective ever interviewing key witnesses and evidence in the case. After this information was presented to the prosecutor, the charges were dismissed. A great result for my client but another example of an innocent person charged with a serious offense. I only wonder what could have occurred if my client had not been able to retain and assemble a defense team to locate witnesses and evidence to convince the Government that he was innocent?
Innocent People Wrongly Convicted
Innocent people are wrongfully charged and wrongfully convicted of felony crimes and often end up in prison. As the Times article indicates, however, exonerations do occur. People charged with or convicted of crimes can have the charges dismissed or convictions “thrown out” with the assistance of experienced counsel. But this can be a difficult and long process. Witnesses must be interviewed, evidence must be reviewed, and procedures of law enforcement and the prosecutor must be thoroughly examined. By so doing, the attorney is in the best position to file the necessary motions in court to exonerate his innocent client.
If you are looking for a lawyer to assist a person who has been wrongfully charged or convicted and is “actually innocent,” then contact the law office of Joe Edwards at 614-309-0243.