Your Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card: Why There’s Hope for the Falsely Convicted

There’s always a happy endings in fairy tales. But, when David Robinson walked out of prison with national TV cameras rolling, it gave us all hope that happy endings can happen in real life. Robinson was wrongfully convicted of murder 18 years ago and the Missouri Supreme Court dismissed the charges against him in May of this year.  

We watched Robinson’s loved ones’ tears of joy stream down their faces as he shouted the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last. I’m free.”

Watch the clip of Robinson’s release:  

False convictions do happen

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a project that collects, analyzes and disseminates information about all known exonerations of innocent criminal defendants in the U.S., there are tens of thousands of false convictions each year across the country. Many more have accumulated over the decades.

The Registry points out that since 2014, most exonerations were produced by full-time professional exonerators like Prosecutorial Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs). These units, which are part of prosecutors’ offices, are intended to prevent, identify, and correct false convictions.

Innocence Organizations (IOs), like the member organizations in the The Innocence Network, represent innocent defendants who were convicted of crimes. An increasing number of CIUs and IOs now work together.

On average, the defendants had served about 14-and-a-half years in prison. Exonerations like Robinson’s used to be major news not too long ago, but now the Registry notes an average of nearly three exonerations a week. Most don’t get the national attention Robinson received.

 

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Overturned convictions are on the rise

The Registry of Exonerations has been tracking exonerations since 1989, but it was in 2015 when they noticed a shift in exoneration trends. It was a record-breaking year with 149 exonerations in the U.S. A record 58 defendants were exonerated in homicide cases and 47 defendants were exonerated of drug possession.

The Registry noted official misconduct in 65 exonerations in 2015. Twenty-seven exonerations were for convictions based on false confessions. Also, 65 exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on guilty pleas.

Carving out hope for appeals

A notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of the decision. If you believe your loved one has a strong case for an appeal, you should enlist the help of an attorney and get to work right away.

Many attorneys shy away from the criminal appellate process because of the intense amount of detailed work involved. But, there are organizations of attorneys who focus solely on wrongful convictions you can contact about your case.  

Attorneys craft a brief to present to a panel of judges in the appellate court. Because the appeals process is about errors made in the handling of the case, the appellate courts look at all of the proceedings of the case. The facts of the case are less of an issue with appeals than the proceedings of the case.  

One pathway to exoneration is through an IO. These nonprofit organizations are networked throughout the country with innocence projects in nearly every state. They provide pro bono legal and investigative services for those who believe they have a wrongful conviction case.

The Innocence Project is another nationwide organization you can turn to. They represent people in cases in which there is physical evidence that could be tested for DNA to show that the defendant is actually innocent.

Don’t lose hope, keep pushing

If you and your loved one feel there is a case for an appeal, you must be diligent. Your loved one will need your support now more than ever. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open during this stressful time.

Remember, your support is crucial to your loved one’s emotional and physical health and you want your loved one in good health when they return home to you. In part two of Your Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card series, we look at what released inmates face in life after prison.

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