What Is Exoneration?
Exoneration officially absolves an individual from blame and serves as a form of vindication. A successful exoneration sets aside all legal penalties associated with a criminal conviction and restores the rights of that person. So how does someone get exonerated?
One common legal pathway for exoneration is through direct appeals. Appeals provide defendants with a means to contest their convictions by demonstrating errors that may have occurred during the trial or sentencing process.
For example, if evidence was improperly admitted, the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated, or the defendant’s lawyer provided inadequate counsel, these issues can be raised on appeal and may lead to a new trial or even acquittal.
Another option is post-conviction relief (PCR).
Post-conviction relief is a general term used to describe any remedy or legal procedure that can be used after someone has been convicted. The purpose of these remedies is to offer individuals who have already been convicted an avenue to contest their sentence or conviction. Post-conviction relief is available in both state and federal courts.
One of the most common types of PCR is a writ of habeas corpus, which typically requires compelling proof, such as DNA testing or a witness retracting their testimony, that establishes the innocence of a defendant found guilty of a crime.
Another option available through post-conviction relief is filing a motion for a new trial. As it sounds, this involves asking the court for another chance at trying the case all over again if the defendant gets a criminal conviction at trial. This option is not always available, however.
Motions for a new trial typically focus on prosecutorial misconduct that prejudiced the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
Common grounds may include withholding evidence from defense counsel during discovery, introducing false evidence at trial, or making improper statements during closing arguments that could have affected jurors’ decisions about guilt or innocence.
California Innocence Projects and Other Organizations
Finally, there are organizations, such as Innocence Project and similar groups, that provide assistance with exonerations by taking on cases pro bono or helping connect those seeking exoneration with the resources they need.
The California Innocence Project (CIP) was founded in 1999 with three main goals: freeing innocent people from prison, reforming the criminal justice system, and training law students to become zealous advocates. CIP has successfully secured the release of dozens of innocent people who were wrongfully convicted.
CIP reviews more than 2,000 claims of innocence each year and is devoted to seeking justice for those who were wronged by the criminal justice system.
CIP’s work goes beyond simply freeing innocent people from prison; they are also involved in changing laws and policies related to evidence preservation, litigating cases, preventing misidentifications, and compensating exonerees.
The Impact of Exonerations on Individuals
Exonerations can be life-changing for individuals who have gone through this process. For starters, their reputation is restored, and any negative stigmas associated with being charged with a crime are lifted.
Additionally, they may be eligible for compensation from the state. In some cases, exonerations also provide individuals with closure after having gone through such traumatic experiences due to false accusations and wrongful convictions.
The Truth Behind Wrongful Convictions
You’ve probably heard the term “innocent until proven guilty.” In the United States, this is a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Wrongful convictions happen all the time, and it’s important to understand how and why.
Eyewitness misidentification is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. This occurs when an eyewitness incorrectly identifies a suspect as being involved in a crime. It’s easy to understand why this happens—witnesses may be under duress or may not have had a good view of the perpetrator during the crime itself.
Additionally, police officers can lead witnesses to make inaccurate identifications. They may do this by using suggestive tactics like showing them only one photo or pushing them to make an identification.
To minimize the chance of false identifications, police should use lineup procedures that minimize suggestions and bias. Examples may be having all lineups contain at least five suspects and ensuring that each suspect looks similar enough to one another so as not to stand out from the pack.
Additionally, officers should avoid giving verbal clues when administering lineups or doing anything that would influence the witness’s decision.
Another common cause of wrongful convictions is false confessions—when a suspect admits guilt for a crime they did not commit. This can happen for many reasons, including mental illness, fear of retribution from police officers, or even just misunderstanding complex legal language used by investigators during interrogations.
Tunnel Vision and Confirmation Bias
Tunnel vision and confirmation bias — when investigators focus too narrowly on one particular suspect while ignoring other leads — can also lead to wrongful convictions. This type of thinking often results from groupthink among law enforcement officers who feel pressured to find a suspect even if there isn’t sufficient evidence.
To reduce tunnel vision, they must remain open-minded throughout an investigation and consider all viable possibilities (including alternative suspects) before making any final conclusions.
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Last Updated on April 10, 2023