"We need to be able to look at old cases, especially where someone is claiming that they are wrongfully convicted," says Assistant District Attorney Robert Jones, who leads the Conviction Review Unit at the Nashville District Attorney's office.
What is ineffective assistance of counsel in a criminal case? Thanks to the Sixth Amendment and associated court rulings, criminal defendants are entitled to the assistance of counsel -- and that counsel is to be effective. However, the standards for determining when counsel has been constitutionally ineffective are hard to meet.
The National Registry of Exonerations has just released data on the 139 people known to have been exonerated in 2017, along with historical data. This information gives us some insight into why 139 innocent people ended up behind bars, and how they ended up getting freed.
When a defendant is exonerated, what happens next? Suppose the defense proves that DNA evidence from the crime scene does not match the defendant. Or, perhaps a key witness recants their story. In some cases, misconduct by the police, prosecutors or the jury is discovered. Once it's clear that the prosecution's case is insufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, does the defendant walk free?
Keith Tharpe, an African-American, was convicted of a terrible crime. In 1990, a Georgia jury said he had ambushed his wife and sister-in-law while they were driving to work. He murdered the sister-in-law and then kidnapped and raped his wife. The sister-in-law's body was later discovered in a ditch by her own husband.
If you plead guilty in exchange for a plea bargain, what happens if the customary sentence changes? When guideline sentences are reduced, defendants are sometimes allowed to ask for the new, lower sentence. Is there a reason why people sentenced after plea bargains should be denied that right?
When Wilbert Jones was convicted of a 1971 abduction and rape, he was 19. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Now 65, he is tasting freedom once more after a Louisiana judge ruled the case against him was weak and found that prosecutors may have withheld key defense evidence.
Bobby H. was locked up for 28 years. He had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed when he was 15 years old. Now 43, he is working to navigate a world he left when he was in eighth grade.
A conviction can be appealed on a number of grounds. One way of looking at it is that convictions (and civil cases) can be appealed based on an error of the law or an error in the facts. In some cases, factual errors are hard to gauge, as a reasonable jury might have decided the facts either way. In others, however, a factual error is a straightforward mistake, such as a mistake in math or a wrong date. This is called "plain error."
Halfway into a 20-year sentence for murder, Jennifer Del Prete was released on bond in 2014 after a judge found she had demonstrated her "actual innocence" of the crime she was convicted of. She had been convicted of violently shaking a child in her care at a day care center. That alleged shaking caused so-called "shaken baby syndrome," neurological evidence of abuse. Unfortunately, it appears that the science behind "shaken baby syndrome" is, as the judge put it, "highly suspect."