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Wrongful Convictions, Who They Affect, & Legal Roadblocks Thwarting New Evidence


The issue of wrongful conviction has long been of concern in North Carolina and at the federal level, and not only disproportionately impacts certain minorities, especially Blacks and Latinos, but in addition, the criminal justice system as a whole is simply not designed to allow for faulty convictions to be overturned, even when the prosecution possesses potentially exculpatory DNA evidence. Providing defendants with a fair trial demands that juries be able to consider whether any new evidence obtained raises a reasonable doubt concerning a defendant’s guilt and it is the constitutional duty of prosecutors to share such evidence.

Still, it is almost impossible to reverse convictions, especially when the defendant does not have the financial resources to fight for their innocence, even when new evidence emerges that raises serious questions about a verdict already rendered. This even includes, for example, a verdict that sent two intellectually disabled children to prison here in North Carolina for a crime they had nothing to do with, where they stayed for 30 years. Judges so frequently rubber stamp the prosecution’s findings in post-conviction writs of habeas corpus that it’s hard to believe that they even read them, indicating that our system ultimately values closure over accuracy and justice.

Why It Is So Difficult to Appeal a Conviction

Because the presumption of innocence arguably vanishes once a defendant has been convicted, there are a number of roadblocks in the way of proving one’s innocence, and it is tremendously difficult to persuade an appeals court to even consider new evidence. This is in part due to appellate courts being very reluctant to second-guess jury verdicts and viewing new witnesses and recantations with skepticism, where the rules value finality, efficiency, and keeping the justice system “manageable,” thus preventing defendants from appealing, even if they have legitimate claims.

Example: The Standard for Federal Courts Granting Habeas Corpus Relief

As dictated by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted one North Carolina defendant a new trial based on juror bias, pursuant to the Death Penalty Act of 1996, federal courts are currently only enabled to grant habeas corpus relief if the state court’s ruling was contrary to or involved in an unreasonable application of federal law or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of evidence that was already presented in state court proceedings. State court findings of fact pursued in habeas proceedings are presumed to be correct unless they are contrary to clear and convincing evidence. In addition, federal courts cannot grant relief to defendants who pursue habeas corpus claims unless the defendant is able to prove that the error of which they “complain” of had a “substantial and injurious effect or influence” on the outcome of the state court proceeding.

Contact A North Carolina Defense Attorney That Will Help You Avoid Wrongful Conviction

Appealing a conviction in North Carolina can be challenging and complicated, warranting that if you have been accused of a crime, you want to ensure that you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney from the get-go, before your initial trial, in order to ensure that your rights are protected.

North Carolina criminal lawyer Rashad Hauter was a Prosecutor for the state of North Carolina for years, and knows the system from the inside and out. He can provide you with the representation you need to ensure you are not wrongfully convicted. Contact our office today for a free consultation to find out more about our services.



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