Jamahl Kersey March 8, 2016 No Comments

When faced with a domestic violence allegation, there are four potential outcomes that are relatively favorable for the accused, albeit to differing degrees.  The first, and most favorable outcome for the accused is that following arrest he or she is not charged.  The second is that he or she is charged but charges are later dropped, before the case goes to trial.  The third is that the accused is charged and then acquitted after trial.  Finally, the fourth, and least desirable, among the four possible favorable outcomes, is that the defendant is charged, found guilty after trial and then later exonerated.  Each of these scenarios are likely to be the result of factual innocence.  Given the potential impact that it can have on a person standing accused of domestic violence or another crime, understanding factual innocence is imperative for the accused and his or her lawyer, and while pop culture references to factual innocence abound, few outside of the courtroom have a solid working knowledge of just what it means.  So just what is it and what role does it play in criminal justice proceedings?  Below are 5 things every accused should know.

1.  What is Factual Innocence?

Factual innocence is an affirmative finding by a court that means that the accused did not commit the crime.  The finding is made after a person who has been falsely accused files a document called a factual innocence petition.  While factual innocence petition can be filed at any point in a criminal proceeding, the term has come into household use largely as it has been related to DNA and its role exonerating the imprisoned wrongfully convicted.  When an innocent party is initially found guilty at trial it may be as a result of misconduct on the part of the prosecutorial team or poor jury selection among other possible factors.

2.  What is the relationship between factual innocence and the Innocence Project?

The Innocence Project is made up of a group of attorneys who represent prisoners while they challenge convictions.  The defense attorneys associated with the Innocence Project largely rely on DNA evidence that shows a mismatch between the DNA of the convicted and the DNA found at the crime scene.  While DNA has received the majority of public attention related to overturned convictions it is important to remember that it is not the only basis for a factual innocence petition. This is especially true in cases where no DNA was found at a crime scene or where DNA was founded but not admitted at trial.  Additionally, the possibility of factual innocence should not be withheld from even those defendants who pleaded guilty since a significant number of defendants who have been exonerated based on DNA evidence originally pleaded guilty in court.

3.  What is the difference between a habeas corpus writ and an appeal?

People who believe that they have been wrongfully convicted of a crime often file a habeas corpus writ rather than or in addition to an appeal.  This writ, filed with either an appeals court or the United States Supreme Court, demands of the imprisoning authority legal grounds for detention, and differs from an appeal in the fact that it allows evidence to be presented that was not present at trial.  Since many factual innocence petitions are filed based on new or additional evidence this way to have a case reconsidered is more likely to result in a favorable outcome for the convicted.  Appeals based on the original evidence are often submitted concurrently.

4.  How can a factual innocence petition lead to a sealing of records?

When a former defendant has been exonerated, in addition to filing a factual innocence petition he or she can also petition to have the records relating to the case sealed or destroyed.  Laws relating to the sealing or destruction of records vary by state.  The sealing or destruction of the records enables the former defendant to act as though the arrest, prosecution or conviction never happened.  This can be especially important when applying for jobs, and makes it very unlikely that anyone will stumble upon the information unintentionally.

5.  What is a lawyer’s role in filing a factual innocence petition?

Seeking exoneration from a criminal conviction or filing a petition of factual innocence for any other reason is a serious legal step, the implications of which, if properly executed, have the potential to be life changing.  For that reason, it is wise to leave these matters to the skill and experience of an attorney specializing in criminal defense law.  Legal language, deadlines, and understanding of eligibility requirements make it much more likely that a petition filed with the assistance of a lawyer will find favorable results for the defendant or former defendant.

To talk more about filing a factual innocence petition or any other matter, please contact us.  Thank you.