Exoneration is a critical aspect of our legal system. It refers to the formal removal of a wrongful conviction, giving those unjustly convicted an opportunity at justice and restoring their freedom.
There are several ways that exoneration can happen in the state of Ohio. Understanding what they are, as well as the reasons for wrongful convictions in the first place, is crucial to ensuring that the justice system works.
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Why Do Wrongful Convictions Happen?
Wrongful convictions are a tragic occurrence within the justice system, and they can often be explained by the following:
Our memories are fallible and sometimes unreliable, making eyewitness accounts less definitive than they may initially seem. Poor lighting, stress at the time of the crime, and inherent biases can all contribute to inaccurate identification during a police lineup.
Additionally, suggestive lineups administered by law enforcement can influence an eyewitness’s memories and decisions.
Misuse or Misinterpretation of Forensic Evidence
Forensic techniques, while powerful tools, aren’t always 100% accurate, and their misuse can lead to wrongful convictions. The reliability of forensic evidence often depends on the accuracy of the equipment used, the care with which samples are collected and preserved, as well as the skill/experience level of those analyzing the results.
In certain situations, individuals might confess to a crime they didn’t commit. Psychological pressure from long or intensive interrogation sessions can lead someone to falsely admit guilt just to end the process, particularly when deceptive strategies are employed by the investigators.
Vulnerable groups like minors and intellectually disabled individuals are more susceptible to these tactics due to their limited understanding of the situation or lack of skills needed to advocate for themselves.
Errors That Can Lead to Successful Exonerations
There are several ways to achieve exoneration, each hinging on proving a fundamental error in either the conviction or sentencing process. The following are some of the mistakes that can lead to the exoneration process:
Overly Harsh Sentencing
If you received high sentences for minor offenses or consecutive terms when concurrent ones would have been more appropriate, this could be grounds for exoneration or at least a reduction of your sentence.
Violation of Constitutional Rights
Everyone has certain protected rights under the United States Constitution – like the right to retain an attorney when you’re charged with a crime. If, for some reason, you are forced to move forward with a hearing, and you were not given a chance to obtain an attorney – or you couldn’t afford one and one was not provided for you – this could open the doors for a new trial. This could lead to exoneration.
Discrimination by a Police Officer, Prosecutor, Judge, or Jury
No person should face discrimination based on characteristics like race, sex, age, or nationality during any stage of investigation or judicial proceedings. If one can demonstrate that such bias occurred in their case, this could serve as grounds for reversing a conviction or conducting a new trial.
DNA Evidence Proving Actual Innocence
With advancements in technology, DNA and fingerprint evidence has become a powerful tool to correct wrongful convictions. However, this pathway depends heavily on properly collecting and preserving such biological samples. An improperly collected or contaminated sample can lead to inaccurate results. Showing this inaccuracy can lead to exoneration.
Paths to Exoneration in Ohio – Appeals
Winning an appeal has several potential outcomes: It might result in immediate release from incarceration if you’ve been wrongfully imprisoned, your sentence may be reduced, or you could even get another shot at demonstrating innocence through a retrial.
The actual appeals process is not the same as the defendant getting a new trial. During appeals, courts are primarily looking at whether or not there were any procedural or legal mistakes made that had significant implications on the initial outcome rather than attempting to reconsider the whole case. Sometimes, this will lead to a new trial.
Motion For a New Trial
Filing a motion for a new trial is another viable path toward exoneration. Under Ohio Criminal Rule 33, this move is premised on the belief that your initial trial included erroneous or irregular proceedings, which directly contributed to your conviction. This motion must be filed within 14 days of the original conviction.
The Importance of Hiring an Ohio Criminal Defense Attorney When Seeking Exoneration
Hiring an Ohio criminal defense lawyer is critical when seeking exoneration. Navigating the complexities of the legal system, especially in matters like appeals or fighting against wrongful convictions, can be challenging and overwhelming for those without specialized training.
Lawyers bring an extensive understanding of court procedures, laws relating to your case, and strategic experience on how best to present your argument. They are equipped to identify errors committed in earlier trials that could form grounds for appeal or overturning a conviction.
Attorneys can also assist with gathering new evidence or subpoenaing witnesses to support your innocence.
If you need help with a claim of exoneration, contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a Cincinnati criminal defense lawyer.