A documentary on a man currently serving a life sentence for the 2005 murder of a woman has led to about half a million petitions for the man’s release based on the belief that he is innocent of the crime. Perhaps part of what makes this particular story so captivating to many people is the fact that the man previously served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Regardless of where a person viewing the documentary stands on the man’s innocence, the case raises the question of what to do when an innocent person is put in prison for a crime he or she did not commit, and what it truly means to be innocent until proven guilty.
Across the country, there are many instances of the justice system failing and innocent people not only serving lengthy prison sentences, but in some cases, being executed. The counter to these grave injustices is an almost “better safe than sorry” approach that prefers to put a person away, especially if he or she fits a certain profile, in order to avoid the possibility that he or she could harm another person. In the cases in which a person has a troubled past or prior convictions of a related nature, a jury may be more inclined to forget the importance of innocent until proven guilty, even subconsciously.
Oftentimes, wrongful convictions are overturned after the introduction of DNA evidence proves that another person committed the crime. This is not easy evidence to come across in many cases. In other cases, witnesses can recant and provide new statements to law enforcement officials claiming their original testimony was false. Because this kind of evidence is unreliable, it does not often result in new trials or exoneration for the imprisoned person.
Wrongfully convicted persons usually begin the long and arduous journey of trying to prove their innocence by filing petitions for post-conviction relief or for clemency. Making the appropriate claims of innocence sometimes results in the government reevaluating or reinvestigating the case. The Attorney General’s Office for New York State has a Conviction Review Bureau that reviews cases in which a person may have been wrongfully convicted. This bureau follows up on cases if the original prosecutor’s office cannot reinvestigate the case themselves.
For people whose innocence is established and are released from prison, the exoneration is cause enough to celebrate, however, the law also provides for compensation for the wrongful conviction. If the person meets the requirement of the law, they may receive some money as compensation, although the process could take years even after filing a civil suit. Therefore, the injustice of a wrongful conviction can continue even after the release from prison.
When dealing with law enforcement officials, especially if you seem to be in a situation that looks like a formal interrogation, you should always remain silent until you have had time to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your statements could lead to a conviction despite your best efforts to assert your innocence.
Contact an Experienced Syracuse Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been arrested, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you fight the charges against you, because a conviction can carry lifelong consequences. Contact experienced Syracuse criminal defense attorney George F. Hildebrandt for a consultation.