An innocent person, wrongfully accused is a real problem. We know it in part thanks to post-conviction exonerations based on DNA and other evidence. Despite actual innocence, some juries have brought a guilty verdict. Researchers document hundreds such cases.
This reminds us that the legal system is a human enterprise. Though well-meaning, mistakes are inevitable over time.
When those mistakes are made, is it better to exercise caution to prevent the possibly guilty going free? Or is it better to prevent conviction and imprisonment of the possibly innocent? We now know that this is an either-or question.
Constitutional law requires fairness. It reminds us to jealously guard against convicting the possibly innocent with:
- the burden of proving any fact is on the prosecutor
- the jury resolves any doubt to benefit the accused, unless unreasonable
- the law tells the jury that the accused person begins the trial innocent; and that presumption remains until the jury deliberates
A not-guilty verdict does not necessarily mean that the jury believed the person accused was actually innocent. A not-guilty verdict only means that the jury found reasonable doubt about some part of the prosecution’s case.
But in addition to their not-guilty verdict; some juries make a point to communicate that they strongly believe the defendant to be actually innocent.
Some of the famous exoneration cases followed guilty pleas, not trials. That surprises many.
Why would an innocent person plead guilty to a crime they did not commit?
Today’s criminal justice system puts enormous pressures on the innocent defendant to plead guilty, including:
- pretrial detention in jail (e.g., bail beyond reach)
- relaxation of traditional laws protecting the rights of the accused (e.g. corroboration)
- severe prison sentences (e.g. Sentencing Guidelines, mandatory minimum sentencing laws)
Even with these pressures, with the help of an expert sex crime defense attorney, the innocent should not plead guilty.
Instead, your defense lawyer must work hard to find a way to persuade the jury of the truth at trial. Sadly, innocence alone has proven to be a poor defense. Too many people later exonerated, were earlier convicted by a jury.
The work begins when the person accused retains his or her defense attorney.
Then we conduct fact investigation, discovery, research, and form a case strategy. Trial preparation begins on day one, and continues at least until the trial.
With smart, hard work, we can find justice.
Questions? You can call Minneapolis Sex Crimes Lawyer Thomas Gallagher at (612) 333-1500.