Wrongly Convicted in Florida Offered Expanded Rights

The U.S. Supreme Court has expanded the rights of inmates who can prove actual innocence after a conviction. Essentially, they are allowed to break the 1-year habeas corpus deadline if they can convince a judge they should never have been convicted in the first place.
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While this is certainly a positive for those who are wrongly convicted of serious crimes in Florida, our Fort Lauderdale felony defense lawyers know that the threshold these individuals have to meet is still very high. Ultimately, your best chance of avoiding a life behind bars is to take action BEFORE the trial to hire a criminal defense attorney with experience, skill and a history of proven results.

In the early stages of the criminal justice process, at least in theory, the onus is on prosecutors to prove you are guilty. For this reason, the odds are more stacked in favor of the defendant. While victim’s rights advocates have decried this set-up, it’s designed this way for a very specific reason: To avoid wrongful convictions.

In the appellate process, however, the odds are stacked against you. The onus is on the defendant to prove why he or she is innocent. That can be an uphill battle – even when new evidence comes to light that may not have been available at the time of the trial.

In the case of McQuiggin v. Perkins, that was exactly the kind of scenario that cropped up.

The defendant, Perkins, was convicted of first-degree murder following the death of a man with whom he had left a party. He was one of two men believed to have last seen the victim alive. The third man blamed Perkins, while Perkins blamed him. The jury ultimately believed the third man.

Then in 2002, affidavits of three witnesses surfaced that identified that third man as the killer. For reasons unknown, Perkins waited six years from the time those affidavits were discovered until the time he filed his habeas corpus appeal for his freedom and a new trial.

However, his request was initially denied on the basis of a 1996 law called the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The title makes it sound as if it would be irrelevant to the case, but in fact, the law became key because it gives inmates exactly one year to file a federal habeas petition. The clock on that year begins either on the date which the judgement became final OR when the new evidence was discovered.

Perkins waited six years. We don’t know why. Prosecutors tried to argue that in doing so, Perkins had forfeited his right to even have that petition heard by a judge.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against that in a 5-4 decision, holding that if one could prove “actual innocence,” the claim could proceed despite the failure to follow that one-year timeline. Failure to allow this, the court said, could result in miscarriages of justice.

But the standard of actual innocence is a high one. It means that the person has to convince a judge that had the evidence before the court today been available at the time of the trial, no reasonable jury would have moved to convict. That’s a steep hill to climb. Usually, we’d be talking about cases in which DNA evidence had cleared the defendant or a key witness recanted.

In fact, the threshold is so high it may be even unattainable for Perkins. Time will tell.

The bottom line is that you need to rely on a good criminal defense attorney who will get it right the first time.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
SCOTUS: Actual innocence may excuse blown habeas deadline; Scalia blasts ‘shiny new exception’, May 28, 2013, By Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal
More Blog Entries:
Florida Court: Miranda Rights Warning Not Required for Barricaded Suspect, March 25, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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