Innocence Isn’t Enough to Release Someone From Prison

In my previous post, It’s Even Harder for Innocent Defendants Now, I pointed to an article from a Houston defense attorney about how difficult the situation has become for innocent individuals who have been accused of sex crimes, especially those against children, now that Texas has adopted two Federal rules of evidence (413 and 414).

In Aggravated, and earlier in this blog, I argued that two other Texas rules (Rule of Evidence 606(b) and Rule of Appellate Procedure 21.3) didn’t work the way they should (I believe that one nullifies the other).

Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and Director of two law clinics there, pointed to what I believe should be considered to be another flaw in the American legal system. After conviction, it apparently doesn’t matter to the courts whether you’re innocent or not. As Dr. Bazelon said in a March 2015 article in Slate Magazine:

“If you are a wrongfully convicted man or woman in this country, it is extremely difficult—if not outright impossible—to win your case by advancing the simple argument that you are innocent. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s true. The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to hold that the federal Constitution allows for so-called freestanding claims of innocence, that is, the right to be let out of prison simply because you didn’t do it, without any other ‘technical’ violation to back up your argument. In the United States, the inmate who raises a compelling case of innocence after a constitutionally proper trial may well be doomed.”

Dr. Bazelon goes on to describe the Supreme Court’s judgment in a 1993 case, Herrera v. Collins. The court was trying to decide (based on this single case) whether all defendants who had found new evidence of their innocence could put forward an argument that their convictions were “obtained in violation of the constitutional guarantees of due process and protection against cruel and unusual punishment.”

SCOTUS voted against Herrera, saying it wasn’t something they should deal with, that it was an issue that should be left up to the governor of each state (to grant clemency or not); and also said that entertaining actual innocence claims was disruptive and unfair to the courts. Bazelon’s interesting article goes into deeper detail on other cases, and makes a number of valid points. You can read it here.

Have you had any similar experiences with the law? Let me know below.



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