While the Innocence Project focuses on cases involving DNA evidence—usually violent felonies—those wrongfully convicted of lesser crimes are often left with no recourse. An article published Monday by the
explored cases that don’t characteristically fit the criteria for representation by the Innocence Project, but in which defendants’ lives are nonetheless turned upside down.
According to the article, about 75 percent of known exonerations involved a homicide or sexual assault. Exonerations for other lesser crimes trended upward in 2014, in part because of increased activity by conviction review units, but they remain in the minority. Only six percent of total known exonerations were for robbery convictions, even though there are four times as many robberies reported annually than murders and rapes.
The article cites the fact that many people convicted of minor offenses may not bother to appeal the case, preferring instead to serve the time and move on. People facing charges for non-violent felonies may be encouraged by their trial attorneys to plead guilty in order to receive a lesser sentence. Post-conviction, the process of having a case reviewed is often lengthy and difficult. Defendants are often not able to pay attorneys to take on this process on their behalf.
“These are seemingly simple little cases,” Jon Gould, professor of law at American University, told the
. “But they often have very little evidence. You might see tunnel vision by the prosecution. Perhaps there’s just one eyewitness, and maybe not even a good eyewitness, or a questionable informant. There might be Brady violations or a weak showing by the defense lawyer. Together, they are really a perfect storm of systemic failure.”
Defendants convicted of minor crimes are often just as afflicted as those convicted of violent felonies in that, upon serving their sentence, they’re often unable to find gainful employment, receive financial aid for further education or find adequate and affordable housing.
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