Presumed innocent? Not during a federal appeal

Most people have a good sense of what is involved in a criminal trial. The burden is on the prosecution to demonstrate that the suspect is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The suspect is presumed to be innocent of the crime. A federal appeal in a criminal case is quite different. After a person has been convicted, the issues on appeal may be more limited, and there is a presumption that the trial court was correct in its conviction.

Far too often, a person who has been wrongly convicted, or has received an unreasonably harsh sentence, is faced with a very challenging situation on appeal. Last week, a man was released after spending decades in jail. When a Federal Court of Appeals finally ordered a new trial, the judge harshly criticized the original prosecution and investigation saying that there was “persuasive evidence that the agents were outright dishonest,” and there was “further evidence of police ineptitude and deceit.”

According to a recent article concerning this case, the initial criminal trial was marred by several issues. The entire trial, including the selection of jurors, lasted only eight days. It now appears that the prosecution withheld evidence that could have demonstrated the defendant’s innocence, and that they may have planted evidence that jurors relied on when they issued their verdict of guilty.

When the evidence that was withheld was finally discovered and turned over to the defense team for this incarcerated man, he sought a new trial. In 2000, in the same courtroom in which the man was convicted, the judge said that the evidence was not sufficient to warrant a new trial, though very similar evidence had been sufficient to secure a conviction. It would be another ten years before this man was released.

Pursuing an appeal of a federal criminal conviction is a specialized and difficult task. It is important that the attorneys working on your appeal are experienced in this process and have a proven track record of success.

Source: New York Times, “When Innocence Isn’t Enough,” Raymond Bonner, Mar. 2, 2012