Archive for the ‘Innocence Project of Florida’ Category


Exoneration Anniversary: Jerry Miller!

Taylor Thornton — April 23, 2018 @ 4:47 PM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Jerry Miller!!

On October 1, 1982 Jerry Miller was convicted of rape, robbery, and kidnapping and sentenced to 45 years following the brutal attack of a woman entering her vehicle in a Chicago, Illinois parking garage. Despite his alibi and the victim being unable to accurately identify her attacker, Miller was convicted based primarily on the identification by employees of the parking garage who had seen the true assailant.

In 2005 the Innocence Project took on Miller’s case. A slip worn by the victim at the time containing DNA was tested and Jerry Miller was able to be excluded. At that time, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office joined the Cook County Public Defender’s Office and the Innocence Project in filing a joint motion to vacate Jerry Miller’s conviction. The DNA testing was also able to identify the true attacker when the profile was entered into the FBI offender database. Happy 11 years of freedom Jerry Miller!!

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District Attorneys Seeking Justice for the Innocent!

Taylor Thornton — April 20, 2018 @ 3:20 PM — Comments (0)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is one of many district attorneys operating conviction integrity units in their offices.

In the last few years, an awareness seems to be growing in our society for those who are wrongfully convicted and a support for the exoneration of those people. Wrongful conviction stories are showing up more and more frequently in the media across television, movies, and even podcasts as public interest grows (you can read more about some of those here). Over the past few decades, as well, it appears that public opinion is shifting on the way we view crime and punishment as a society, seeming to favor rehabilitation over more punitive measures and harsh mandatory sentences. As this cultural shift grows, we are now seeing support coming from an unusual source: prosecutors.

Typically, the goal of a prosecutor is to get as many guilty verdicts as possible, because that is just their job. But, it appears that a new generation of prosecutors have come along that are placing a greater priority on the quality of their convictions. Across the country, more than 30 district attorneys have created conviction integrity units. A conviction integrity unit is a unit established within a prosecutorial office that serves to go through and investigate the past cases of that office in search of wrongful convictions. The reasons for these wrongful convictions can be intentional malfeasance by the prosecutors or the police, but it can also include bad forensic science or flaws in the investigation.

The conviction integrity unit created within the Brooklyn district attorney’s office had massive success since its establishment in 2011. In just a short amount of time under Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s leadership, his unit has been able to overturn over 19 convictions since he took office in 2014. It has become a national leader in exonerations, particularly for murder convictions. This number includes Vanessa Gathers, the first female to be exonerated by this unit. Gathers is one of a number of defendants accusing retired NYPD detective Louis Scarcella of using tactics to extract false confessions from suspects. She has finally had her name cleared after serving 10 years in prison and 5 more on parole for a manslaughter conviction that she was innocent of.

Despite the very quickly growing success of these units, there is still a long way to go before a real dent is made in the number of inmates wrongfully incarcerated throughout the country. Only about 30 district attorney’s offices of the few thousand nationwide have created these units. That being said, these have been a huge and very positive step in the right direction. Changing the culture of the way we view wrongful convictions, especially by those in powerful positions inside prosecutorial offices, gives hope for less injustice moving forward.

One issue not yet being tackled by these units, however, is addressing those cases in which the conviction was valid but the punishment might not be. This is a much more daunting task to address for prosecutors but it is an idea that would likely render much public support. Philadelphia is likely to soon create the first sentence review program in our nation’s history. A sentence review unit would work similarly to conviction integrity units but would instead evaluate if the punishment was fair. New Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is making plans with his staff to create such a unit. Numerous other district attorneys across the country are also working with an organization called Fair and Just Prosecution to create their own units as well.

While this task is a lot easier said than done, moves are being made in the right direction to help repair the important flaws in our system. These new progressive prosecutors are starting the important conversations about what success and justice should look like within our nations prosecutorial offices. Raising the integrity of these office and their convictions serves to lessen time spent behind bars by innocent people. It can also serve to find those true assailants left on the streets before they offend and cause harm to anyone again. These units can educate prosecutors and the public alike to raise their awareness on where they might have gone wrong in the past so that these mistakes can be learned from and the tragedies of wrongful convictions can be minimized.

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Exoneration Anniversary: Megan Winfrey and Victor Larue Thomas!

Taylor Thornton — April 17, 2018 @ 10:48 AM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Megan Winfrey!!

In 2008 Megan Winfrey was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 2004 murder of Murray Burr in Coldspring, Texas. Her conviction was based on circumstantial evidence, primarily scent evidence from bloodhounds employed by the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department who allegedly “alerted” to Megan as well as her brother and father. In February of 2013 Megan Winfrey was acquitted when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the dog scent evidence was insufficient. Megan was released on April 17, 2013 when the state was denied their petition to retry her. Happy 5 years of freedom Megan Winfrey!

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary Victor Larue Thomas!!

Victor Thomas was sentenced to three life terms on June 15, 1986 for the beating and raping of a worker during the robbing of a convenience store in Waxahachie, Texas. Thomas’ conviction rested on his identification by the victim and her testimony in court. After writing numerous letters from behind bars trying to get help, state District Judge Gene Knize took notice of Victor. Judge Knize appointed Victor an attorney, asked the Ellis County District Attorney’s Office to re-investigate the case, and asked for DNA testing. DNA testing excluded Victor from being the attacker and he was released in June of 2001. Finally, Texas Governor Rick Perry pardoned him on April 17, 2002. Happy 16 years of freedom Victor Larue Thomas!!

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False Confessions: What are the Consequences?

Taylor Thornton — April 13, 2018 @ 3:04 PM — Comments (0)

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In the previous posts in this False Confessions series, we discussed the causes that lead to an innocent person giving a false confession. We broke down what kind of tactics used and errors made by interrogators can lead to falsifying a confession and what certain groups can be the most vulnerable to these. What we have not really delved into, however, is what the consequences of this are. The obvious answer, of course, is that a false confession will likely result in a wrongful conviction. But, the consequences of a false confession can persist even after the exoneration of an innocent person. We will discuss these consequences in this post.

A confession is the most powerful piece of evidence that can come before a court. Social science has shown us that confessions are extremely persuasive to a jury. Confessions are especially persuasive when they include descriptive details of the crime. As was discussed in the last post in this series, confessions can also be infected by leading questions or even insertions of information that make the confession even more convincing and believable. Social scientists can present in court the research behind how often and why false confessions may occur. The defense can use these social scientists to try to lessen the powerful persuasive effect of a defendants false confession. But, it is hard to take the images out of a jury’s head of the defendant sitting in front of them saying in their own words that they are guilty. This is why, as stated earlier, false confessions will likely result in a wrongful conviction.

What is even worse, false confession can still follow an innocent person even after they have been exonerated and have had their innocence (supposedly) earned back. When someone has given a false confession of guilt, or even worse entered a guilty plea, when they are innocent, that can threaten their right to monetary compensation for their suffering. An example of this can come from the 2004 Supreme Court Case of Taylor v. Smith. Lola Ann Taylor falsely confessed to rape and murder, along with five others, of Helen Wilson. Taylor gave this false confession after repeated interrogations, including being interrogated by her former psychologist Dr. Wayne Price. When Taylor was exonerated by DNA evidence she had to fight for her compensation under the Nebraska Wrongful Conviction Act. This is because it stipulates that the complainant must be innocent of the crimes as well as have not made a false statement that brought about their conviction, unless that statement was coerced by law enforcement. Taylor had to prove to the court that she was psychologically coerced and did not intentionally give false statements.

Lola Ann Taylor was fortunate to have won her case and be granted her compensation, although some might say she should not have been put through all of that when she was innocent, but some exonerees are not this fortunate. Some exonerees are denied their compensation because of their false confessions, despite the fact that they were coerced, psychologically manipulated, and suffered the same amount as a result of the same failures of the criminal justice system. To deny an innocent person compensation for their time spent suffering behind bars because of a crime that they never committed is unjust, false confession or not.

To wrap up this series on wrongful convictions, there are a number of ways that future damages can be avoided by preventing false confessions from happening in the future. A major solution that we have discussed here before is video taping the interrogation. With a taped confession, investigators can view what lead to the confession and where the details of the confession might have come from. The tapes of these confessions can also be used in court by the defense to delegitimize the confession. However, this is not a full solution. The taping of confessions can be manipulated by using deceptive camera angles or not taping prior interrogation sessions that may be relevant. Also, the taping of a false confession does not catch the suspects whole life on camera, meaning that it would not capture events prior to the interrogation that might effect their mental health or current mental state.

Another method that has been promoted by the Nebraska Innocence Project is not allowing investigators to threaten suspects with the death penalty. The threat of execution can result in an innocent suspect giving a false confession in exchange for a lesser sentence. When presented with the threat of death, the influence to lie to avoid this is too strong to yield a just and truthful confession.

When it comes to false confessions, the consequences are clearly damaging and long-lasting. A false confession and thus wrongful conviction is a loss and an injustice for everyone involved. Not only will an innocent person have a piece of their life stolen, but the police will have failed their mission and failed the victims by leaving the true assailant on the streets.

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More Binge-Worthy Media of the Innocence World

Taylor Thornton — April 09, 2018 @ 3:44 PM — Comments (0)

For a long time it seems that the public has had an interest in crime. Crimes that are particularly violent, scandalous, or just simply awful always seem to capture the attention of the American public. This is why there are dozens of shows about murder, crime solving, and the minds of criminals. There are whole channels dedicated to such programs, like Investigation Discovery, where viewers can find programs like Wives with Knives or Nightmare Next Door.

In recent years, however, there has been a growing popularity for media not just involving crime but for those stories involving wrongful convictions. Bringing light to wrongful convictions and how they happen can only serve to help stop this from happening. The more aware and mindful the public is on how easily a wrongful conviction can happen and the type of damage it can cause, the more careful people will be. That being said, here are six more binge-worthy series, films, and podcasts from the world of wrongful convictions.

If you like any of these, be sure to check out our previous binge-worthy media post for eight more!

Series:

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To start with an obvious one that was touched on in our last post about this, the Netflix original Making a Murderer is one of the most popular series relating to wrongful conviction. This series follows the story of Steven Avery, sentenced to life in prison for the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach, and his teenaged nephew Brendan Dassey, also sentenced to life for the same murder. Steven Avery was previously a client of the Wisconsin Innocence Project who helped exonerate him of his 1985 conviction of sexual assault and attempted murder. After serving 18 years for this wrongful conviction, Avery was free only two years before being arrested once again. This time, he is arrested for murder. To watch the trailer click here.

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Another more recent series is the 2017 docuseries I am Innocent. This series tells the stories of the victims of wrongful conviction in New Zealand. It also seeks to reveal the cracks in their justice system that cause these. This series can be streamed now on Netflix.

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The 2017 A&E series The Murder of Laci Peterson calls into question the conviction and death sentence of Scott Peterson. This series brings back to the forefront one of the most infamous and high profile cases of the last twenty years over a decade after Laci Peterson’s Christmas Eve disappearance. Through interviews with reporters, family and neighbors, this series revisits the national fascination with Laci Peterson’s disappearance, how Scott Peterson became the most hated man in America, and what the police might have overlooked in order to convict Scott Peterson. For a trailer for this series click here.

Films:

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This 1988 film is an older one but still a must-watch for wrongful conviction junkies. The Thin Blue Line follows the story of Randall Adams, a man sentenced to death for a murder that he did not commit. The film shows a series of reenactments of the crime and interviews about the case with attorneys, police, and witnesses. The title refers to a statement by prosecutor Doug Mulder in his closing arguments for this case that police are the “thin blue line” that separates society and anarchy. To watch the trailer for this film click here.

Pocasts:

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Podcasts are a medium that grows more popular each day, and with this growth comes it’s fair share of wrongful conviction topics. This first podcast is called Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom. In this podcast, the stories of all different exonerees are told based on the files of the lawyers who worked to exonerate them. In addition, the men and women themselves who were wrongfully convicted are interviewed. Click here to stream this podcast on Revolver podcasts.

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This last binge-worthy podcast is Accused: The Unsolved Murder of Elizabeth Andes.  If you’re interested in going more in depth into a case than just one episode, this might be the right podcast for you. This series, as the title indicates, goes through the 1978 murder of Elizabeth Andes in her own home. The police decided they knew within hours who had committed this crime.  Follow this case episode by episode to decide if you agree and whether or not a killer walked free. Stream this podcast here.

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Exoneration Anniversary: Derrick Williams

Taylor Thornton — April 04, 2018 @ 11:54 AM — Comments (0)

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Happy 7 year exoneration anniversary Derrick Williams!!

In March of 1993 Derrick Williams was found guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft auto, two counts of battery and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison. Williams’ conviction was based strongly on the misidentification of the victim in court.

The victim was attacked inside of her car in her driveway in Palmetto, Florida at 6pm on August 6, 1992. The attacker drove the victim to an orange grove where she was raped, robbed, and beaten before she managed to escape. When the victim worked with police to create a composite sketch, one officer thought that the sketch looked like Derrick Williams. The officer recognized Derrick from his acquittal in a very similar 1981 case of abduction and rape in a Florida orange grove. Williams’ photo was placed in a photo lineup where the victim identified him and she subsequently identified him in a live lineup. Despite his alibi which was corroborated by many witnessed brought by the defense, and the holes in the prosecution’s case, Derrick Williams was convicted on March 19, 1993.

Following his conviction, with the help of the Innocence Project of Florida, Derrick was able to request DNA testing of a shirt that the attacker had worn and later used to cover the victim’s face during the attack. The t-shirt was found in the victim’s backseat after the incident. Despite the negligent destruction of much of the physical evidence in Williams’ case by incineration, they were able to test sweat and skin cells on the collar of the t-shirt. These tests were able to exclude Williams as a possible contributor of this DNA. The Innocence Project of Florida filed a motion for post conviction relief based on the new DNA evidence and the unlawful destruction of exculpatory by the police. Following a two day evidentiary hearing Derrick Williams was granted a new trial on March 29, 2011. On April 4, 2011 the prosecution dismissed the charges and Derrick Williams was released.

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There is No Time Limit on True Innocence

Taylor Thornton — April 02, 2018 @ 2:20 PM — Comments (0)

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Exculpatory evidence is any piece of evidence that gives favor to the accused party in a criminal case. This evidence, if strong enough, could exonerate the defendant from any guilt. But, what happens when powerful exculpatory evidence is uncovered after an innocent person has already been wrongfully convicted of a crime that they did not commit? That depends on a number of factors. One of these factors, unfortunately, can include how much time has passed.

A statute of limitations is a law that dictates the amount of time following some event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. In the case of presenting new evidence to exonerate a wrongfully convicted person, depending on the state that person lives in, there may be a time limit on presenting that new exculpatory evidence. In Florida, under rule 3.850 of the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure you only have two years following a sentencing to file a Motion to Vacate Sentence based on, for example, a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. However, there are exceptions to that time limit, an important one being newly discovered evidence. This could include a witness recanting their testimony, a Brady violation like when the prosecution withholds evidence from the defense that could be favorable to the defendant, or new DNA results. The request for DNA testing, under rule 3.853, has no time limitations in the state of Florida.

In comparison to some other states, Florida’s rules might seem very fair. In Alabama, for example, those convicted of a capital crime can apply for DNA testing if it was not done at their original trial but that request must be made within a year of their conviction. It should not be assumed that prisoners are fully aware of these statutes and the workings of the legal system as a whole as the general public typically is not. Placing that time limit on DNA testing can leave an innocent person in prison not knowing they need to file that motion within a certain period of time. There are also other constraints on DNA testing that differ among states like only allowing DNA testing for death row inmates, not allowing DNA testing to inmates who had confessed, or those who entered a guilty plea. All of these restrictions put a limit on true justice.

While states like Florida that do not time bar the right to DNA testing and offer various exceptions to their two year time limit seem very fair in comparison to many other states, it should be called into question whether any restrictions should exist at all. It is fair to say that dragging out court cases for years and giving unlimited appeals would cost an unreasonable amount of time and resources for the criminal justice system and the courts. But it is also quite fair to say that an innocent person sitting in prison for a crime that they did not commit should not simply run out of time to prove their innocence. If a person is truly innocent and suffering the awful punishment of imprisonment for actions they never committed there should always be an option for them to try to prove their innocence. At the very least, no states should place a time restraint on the testing of DNA, one of the most powerful pieces of evidence the accused can have.

One state showed last month that they may agree with this notion. On Monday March 12, 2018 the Governor of Wyoming signed a bill into law that allows wrongfully convicted people to introduce non-DNA evidence at any point following their convictions. This contrasts their previous window of two years to introduce non-DNA evidence and an unlimited amount of time to introduce DNA evidence. Hopefully this new law will serve as an example for the rest of the country to allow for more options for the wrongfully convicted.

It is important to remember that when a person is wrongfully convicted of a crime, that a criminal is left out on the street. When options for exoneration are limited, especially DNA evidence that has the potential to definitively exonerate someone and point directly to a true guilty party, it allows for a criminal to continue to walk free. The potential for tedious and costly wastes of time and resources in the court system is a valid concern. But, it is hard to say that these costs are more important than an innocent person’s right to prove their innocence. There should be no time limit on innocence.

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False Confessions: Why do the Innocent Confess?

Taylor Thornton — March 28, 2018 @ 12:00 PM — Comments (0)

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In the first post in this series, we discussed which particular groups of people were more vulnerable to giving false confessions and should thus receive special protection from such a thing. But, the truth is, giving a false confession is something anyone can fall victim to. To the average person, this concept seems baffling. It is difficult to wrap the mind around why someone would ever claim guilt for a crime they were not guilty of, especially the more heinous crimes like murder and rape. But, the fact is, hundreds of innocent people have confessed to crimes they’ve later been exonerated of. So, why does this happen?

Explaining why a false confession occurs can be categorized into three components. The first is the misclassification error. Misclassification occurs when police and detectives decide that the innocent party is definitely the guilty party that they are searching for. A false confession always starts, of course, with the police landing their targets on an innocent suspect. Police are trained in interrogation tactics that involve observing very specific body language cues almost as though they are human lie detectors. Research has shown that these are not the most accurate or reliable evaluations of whether someone is telling the truth. However, detectives might use these bodily cues to decide among themselves that this suspect is lying and proceed to an interrogation. Other mistakes can influence police to choose their guilty suspect, like that person fitting a given description of the perpetrator or simply being a person who would have motive like a family member. When investigators decide early on who they think is guilty, other errors will follow as they move forward determined to yield a confession.

The second component is the coercion error. When investigators have misclassified the guilty party, they need to yield a confession from them. The confession is incredibly important when an innocent person has been wrongly presumed guilty because there will likely be little or no other evidence to support a case against this party if they are truly innocent. Thus, investigators begin an interrogation often marked by tactics to coerce the suspect into giving the confession. One strategy is extremely long interrogations. A common theme among false confessions is having sat in interrogation rooms for unimaginable amounts of time before finally giving the confession. Suspects are physically and mentally exhausted, this weakens their ability to stand up to the interrogators. Detectives can use this weakness to their advantage in a number of ways. Investigators sometimes make promises that the suspect can go home if they simply confess, which can become shockingly enticing after 16 hours straight in an interrogation room. Often the suspect just wants to go home, so they give in and tell the interrogators whatever it is that they want to hear so that they can leave. Bad interrogators might also use methods of psychological coercion. This can include promises of leniency, threats of harsher treatment, and making the suspect believe that they have no other choice but to confess. They are often convinced that their guilt is so established that no one will ever believe them and, sometimes and most shockingly, innocent people can even be convinced that they are truly guilty of the crime when they are not. As we discussed in the first False Confessions, these tactics can be particularly effective and damaging for certain groups of people.

Finally, there is the contamination error. A very simple admission of guilt is not enough for a convincing confession. A powerful confession provides details, motives, and emotions that will convince a jury that this suspect must be guilty. Once interrogators have successfully yielded a confession of guilt from their suspect, they now need them to provide those convincing details for the confession to be powerful. This is where the contamination error can come in. In a proper interrogation, police might ask vague questions about the circumstances of the crime, without being leading, that result in the truly guilty party providing details that only they could know. This helps the police prove to a jury that a truly guilty party had to have committed this crime if they go back on their confession later on. However, when interrogating an innocent person interrogators may ask specific and guiding questions in order to get the details that they desire. This can be unintentional on the part of the investigator who truly believes that this suspect is guilty and truly wants to see justice by getting a thorough confession. This can also be more malicious on the part of a truly corrupt interrogator that desires to pin a crime on a person that they know is innocent. Interrogators may insert certain information and attempt to shape the suspects responses in order to create the narrative that they need. This can go so far as implying or even overtly providing details that only the perpetrator of the crime could know. They contaminate the confession by implying or even blatantly inserting information to strengthen their perceived narrative of events. This creates an extremely convincing confession.

When such interrogations are recorded in full, social scientists can study the exact steps taken for an innocent person to admit guilt to a crime they did not commit. Attorneys, of course, can also use this at trial to deny the validity of such a confession. But, when police do not record every part of it, and only have taped evidence of the admission of guilt itself, this can be devastating for the innocent party. With no way to provide an explanation to a jury as to why the accused would confess if they were in fact innocent, that false confession can be the most powerful piece of evidence, and sometimes the only real piece of evidence, against them that can take their life away from them. A video taped confession can protect both the accused and the investigators questioning them. It shows the full truth of the circumstances of the confession and protects the integrity of police officers who are performing their job properly by yielding real confessions without coercion.

A false confession, while it may close a case, is not justice. A wrongful conviction always leaves a guilty party on the streets free to offend again and takes away the life of an innocent. It is important to understand why someone might falsely confess in order to make proper and truthful confessions the goal over just any admission of guilt.

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Exoneration Anniversary: Anthony Caravella

Taylor Thornton — March 25, 2018 @ 2:00 PM — Comments (0)

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Happy Exoneration Anniversary to Anthony Caravella!!

When a 58-year old woman was sexually assaulted and killed in early November of 1983, the police had no leads as to had perpetrated this terribly violent crime and thus had made no arrests. Almost two months later 15-year old Anthony Caravella was arrested on an unrelated charge. Caravella was known to law enforcement as someone who had been in trouble for theft crimes in the past. The police also used Caravella to close cases that they could not solve because they knew they could get him to convince even when he was not guilty based on his IQ of 67.

Over five days Caravella gave four written and one oral statement all completely different from each other. These statements were made after coercive and suggestive interrogations from law enforcement and the details he gave contradicted what police knew about the factual evidence of the incident. Police physically and psychologically abused Anthony and gave more and more leading, suggestive, and manipulative questioning in order to yield a full confession of guilt from Caravella despite his confessions continuing to negate the physical evidence of the case. Because of this confession, Anthony Caravella was indicted for first-degree murder and battery.

The prosecutions entire case essentially relied on the confession that Anthony gave as they had no other real evidence against him. This confession was still enough to convict Caravella of first-degree murder and sentence him to life in prison.

In 2001, Caravella sought DNA testing from several swabs taken from the victim. But, Broward County Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab submitted a report that they did not obtain a DNA profile from any of the slides. In 2009 orders for DNA testing were submitted again but this time to be done by a separate independent lab. A perpetrator was identified from the tests that conclusively excluded Anthony. Caravella was subsequently released with an ankle bracelet on conditional release while the state was allowed to confirm the results of this DNA test. After the state finally confirmed the DNA results, Anthony Caravella was officially exonerated on March 25, 2010.

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Certificates of Innocence for the Exonerated?

Taylor Thornton — March 21, 2018 @ 12:12 PM — Comments (0)

Certificates of actual innocence are the highest form of expunging one’s criminal record. These certificates go beyond just sealing the charge from the party’s criminal record but also recognizes that the charge should have never existed and the party should have never been arrested in the first place. A certificate of actual innocence is only available to those who were convicted of crimes that they were later found innocent of.

A certificate of innocence is important to exonerated individuals because a mark on a criminal record can unfortunately persist to damage their life even following an exoneration. Having charges on one’s criminal record can bar exonerees from many parts of life and can damage their career, their image, and that of their family. A criminal record can keep them from being able to rent a home, from getting a good job, from being approved for a loan, and much more. An exonerated individual should not continue to suffer such struggles after they have already suffered a false arrest or conviction. An innocent person should never suffer the damages for a crime they did not commit.

It seems obvious that those found innocent and exonerated of false convictions deserve certificates of innocence, at the least, as a step to begin rebuilding their damaged lives. However, this is not so simple in many states. Following a massive scandal in Chicago surrounding police Sergeant Ronald Watts, numerous convictions have been overturned. It was found that this sergeant’s corruption was responsible for numerous wrongful convictions and those were subsequently overturned last year with more cases expected to surface as time goes on. A number of men who served time in prison because of these false convictions have received formal certificates of innocence as is laid out in Illinois statute.

However, an issue has come up for some of Sergeant Watts’ victims. According to Illinois statute, certificates of innocence can only be rewarded to those who actually served time in prison for their wrongful convictions. This has left five innocent men, who were only sentenced to probation in their cases, denied these certificates. These men are planning to appeal their cases to a higher court, but as it currently stands in Illinois statute they do not have a right to a certificate of innocence unless they spent time in prison.

This is a serious flaw in the system that allows innocent people to fall through the cracks. While few things can compare to the damage done by serving time in prison, a criminal record of any kind comes with the same stigma and societal damages. Even though these men avoided the harsh punishment of incarceration they still endured the struggles of being on supervision and they can still be barred from access to things like homes and jobs because of their records. An innocent person deserves their innocence regardless of what level to which they have suffered. The state is denying these men a fully cleaned slate simply because they were not damaged enough in the eyes of the courts. Any damage done to an innocent citizen because of a crime they never committed is too much damage. Every exoneree deserves formal innocence declared by the courts.

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