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Post-Conviction Relief: A Second Look at Conviction

According to The Innocence Project, nobody knows just how many innocent people are sitting in prison after being wrongly convicted. This organization works tirelessly with defendants who believe they were wrongly convicted to secure post-conviction relief. Post-conviction relief is a mechanism for the court to review the conviction under certain circumstances and, if appropriate, reduce the sentence or overturn the conviction. To initiate this process, the defendant must first seek relief through state courts before they are permitted to seek relief in federal court.

The most common of reasons for post-conviction relief are:

  • Ineffective assistance of counsel
  • Newly discovered evidence previously unavailable

The trial court decisions will not be set aside unless they are clearly erroneous. Each case faces an uphill burden after trial to obtain the relief requested.

A recent Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision about ineffective assistance held that the appellant must show both:

  • That his counsel’s representation was deficient
  • That this deficiency prejudiced him

The deficiency must be so pervasive that it was as if the defendant did not receive counsel at all as imagined and guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. This test is satisfied where there is a reasonable probability that absent the error in representation the result of the proceeding would have been different.

Newly discovered evidence must be of facts unknown at the time of judgment, which if known would have changed the judgment rendered. The facts must be outside of the record of the trial. There is no time limit on this type of motion. Some examples include facts that are hidden through fraud or deception. This typically happens in the context of the prosecution having knowledge of certain facts that they withhold from the defense.

A number of remedies may be given by the court. These may include:

  • Release
  • New trial
  • Modification of sentence
  • Any other relief as may be proper and just

The court may also make supplementary orders such as release on security. Obtaining such relief can be a very tangled web of restrictive conditions, which should be handled by experienced criminal lawyers.

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