When a judge hands down a conviction, everything may seem like it is over. But that is far from the truth. Many different scenarios require post-conviction defense, and defendants have the constitutional right to representation. The reason post-conviction process exists is to protect innocent people from the human error that is inherent in the justice system. After a plea-bargain or jury trial conviction, what happens?
What Are Some Different Types of Post-Conviction Proceedings?
Some proceedings are “non-essential.” These are items that do not affect the defendant’s constitutional rights, and they do not give him or her the right to defense counsel. These post-conviction proceedings include:
A writ of Habeas Corpas challenges the validity of a person’s incarceration. It is a summons that has the same weight as a court order. Once before the court, the custodian must prove that they have lawful authority to keep the prisoner.
An appeal is a request from a lower court to a higher court. This court is called the “Appellate Court.” The lower court asks the Appellate Court to review and change their decision. The defendant has the legal right to ask for an appeal after a guilty conviction. There are both state and federal appellate courts, with their own rules and procedures.
Another appeal available is a declaration of a new trial. In this case, a defendant can request a further hearing if the court has made a significant error.
Clemency, Pardon, or Commutation
These proceedings can change, reduce, or eliminate the sentence. Reversing a conviction happens through writs and appeals.
What Procedures Give the Defendant the Rights to Post-Conviction Defense?
After a conviction, a defendant is entitled to legal representation for procedures that affect his or her constitutional rights. Proceedings that involve constitutional rights include:
After a trial, the court will sentence the guilty party. Sentencing is a “critical phase” of the prosecution. Therefore, the defendant is constitutionally entitled to an attorney.
Review of the Effectiveness of Defense Council
Criminal defendants have the right to a competent lawyer. In fact, the 6th amendment guarantees these rights in the U.S. Constitution. If the defendant feels their attorney is incompetent or not capable, he or she will receive a new attorney to review their case.
The First Appeal of Right
Depending on the state, criminals have the constitutional right to appeal. When a judge rules against them during the trial, the defendant must have an attorney appointed to them to help with the appeal.
Currently, the United States leads the world in the number of incarcerated citizens, with more than 2 million people behind bars. According to the Washington Post, at least 1% of those people are wrongfully convicted. Even 1% amounts to hundreds of thousands of people. The Innocence Project is a group that helps free those who have been wrongfully convicted, and reform the criminal justice system. There are several reasons people are wrongfully convicted according to The Innocence Project.
DNA exonerations have proven that informants lie on the stand. In 15% of cases, statements from people with incentives to testify were used to convict innocent people wrongfully.
Inadequate defense means that a defense lawyer isn’t doing his or her job. Innocence Project reviewed DNA exonerations and found attorneys who were overworked or incompetent, failing to call witnesses, investigate, or prepare for trial.
Misapplication of Forensic Science
This factor is the second most common reason for wrongful conviction, found in 45% of DNA exonerations. Misapplication of forensic science includes mistakes like invalid discipline, insufficient validation, misleading testimony, contaminating or mixing up specimens, and misconduct.
Government misconduct is when there is evidence of fraud or negligence by prosecutors or police. Forms of misconduct include not turning over evidence, mishandling or destroying evidence, and coercing false confessions. There is a long list of possible misconduct charges. Consequently, the official fault happens at every level of a criminal investigation.
More than 1 in 4 people will make a false confession and incriminate themselves in a statement. Why do innocent people sometimes confess? False confessions during a police interrogation are due to coercion, fear of violence, ignorance of the laws, mental impairment and many other factors. Also, confessions by juveniles can be particularly unreliable.
This factor is the most significant contributor to wrongful conviction. Eyewitness misidentification involves over 70% of convictions overturned due to DNA evidence. When police present photos with the suspect marked with a label, while all the rest in the picture are unmarked, it causes eyewitness misidentification. In addition, there are several other circumstances which lead to this situation.
A guilty verdict or wrongful conviction is not the end of the line. In fact, many procedures take place after the initial trial is over. Post-conviction defense offers relief including sentence modification, declaration of a new trial, and release. Learn more about post-conviction defense here.