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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, June 13, 2011

When the Innocent Go to Prison We All Lose

Everyone accused of a crime has a right to have the matter tried before a jury with the heightened "beyond a reasonable doubt" evidentiary standard.  Sometimes, however, the jury gets it wrong.

When that happens, you have a constitutional right to appeal.  Most convictions, statistically, are affirmed at the intermediate appellate level.  From there, a convicted felon has a discretionary appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Michigan Supreme Court selects few cases each year; most petitions for a writ of certiorari, especially when they are from prison inmates, are rejected.

Once your state appellate rights are exhausted, you have the right to petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court.  Hopefully, your state court appellate attorney had the wisdom to "federalize" your brief in the intermediate state appellate court because if not, all your constitutional issues are deemed waived.

If the Habeas petition is denied in federal district court, as most are, there is a constitutional right to appeal even further, to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.

The United States Supreme Court is the end of the road.  A petition for a writ of certeriorari to the SCOTUS is, well, best of luck to you....

Most would agree that the incarceration of wrongly convicted individuals is one of the true horrors of our criminal justice system; a less than perfect system that sends people to prison from time to time who did not commit the crime for which they were convicted.

The State Bar of Michigan's blog recently posted some fresh literature addressing this troubling subject.  We think it's worth a look.

Over the weekend, for example, the Detroit Free Press profiled its first in a series of articles detailing a West Bloomfield family's plight following criminal sexual conduct charges.

In addition to the case profile in the Freep, a more detailed study by the Campaign for Justice and the Michigan ACLU is included in the post, tracking 13 wrongly convicted individuals in Michigan; this piece also impugns Michigan's court-appointed counsel system.

The SBM blog post also includes a link to Reason Magazine's nation-wide study featuring UM Law Professor Sam Gross who concludes that wrongful convictions are far more common than most of us believe.

We are not sure what the solution is to this problem.  Many folks in our free society seem hell-bent on breaking the law in major ways, committing "crimes against the person", to use a classification phrase from Michigan's sentencing guideline manual.  No doubt, prosecutors often have a full plate.

But when the accused is innocent, we all lose some of our individual rights, liberties and freedoms.

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