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Wrongfully Convicted

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More than 2,000 people have been exonerated of serious crimes since 1989 in the United States. According to the First National Registry of Exonerations, there are major issues with the criminal justice system, including the leading causes of wrongful convictions, which are perjury, faulty witness identification, and misconduct by prosecutors. Although most people applaud the exonerations of over 2,000 people, that number is relatively small compared to the 2.3 million in jails and prisons.

Nearly 48% of the cases that have been exonerated are for the crime of criminal homicide, 35% of the cases were sexual assault, 11% of the cases were for other crimes of violence, and 7% of the cases were for non-violent crimes. Knowing that, it is very important that the criminal justice system makes changes, adapts to new environments, and ensures that there is enough evidence to convict people of the crimes for which they are charged.

Pennsylvania alone has had 27 people that were wrongfully convicted, exonerated; by new evidence, false identifications, witness mistakes, false confessions, prosecutorial misconduct, etc. Of the 27 cases, Philadelphia has the highest number of cases exonerated with 9. Allegheny County and Dauphin County each had 4 people exonerated between 1989 and 2011.

With that being said, people who are charged with a crime need to be aware of their rights before going through the criminal justice system. People who are charged with a criminal offense should consult a lawyer immediately. There are many times when police officers, state troopers, detectives, etc., try to conduct investigations into crimes, where "suspects" are questioned, and then later charged. It is always a good idea to consult with an attorney prior to going through any type of questioning with police officers, state troopers, detectives, etc., to ensure that your rights are protected.

Once you have been formally charged with a crime, you will receive a copy of the Criminal Complaint, and Notice of a Preliminary Hearing. At the Preliminary Hearing, the Commonwealth is required to present a prima facie case against the accused. This standard is often confused with that of a criminal trial, which is beyond a reasonable doubt. At the Preliminary Hearing, the Commonwealth only needs to present enough evidence that will show that a crime has been committed and that the accused is probably the perpetrator of the crime. If a prima facie case is not presented, the Magistrate should dismiss the charges. However, if the Magistrate believes that there is a prima facie case, the charges will be bound over to the Court of Common Pleas.

Should the charges be held over to the Court of Common Pleas, the District Attorney will file a formal charging document with the Clerk of Courts, against the accused. This document will specify the offenses charged against the accused. From that point, the accused will be provided with a Formal Arraignment date, where the accused will be advised of their rights. It is extremely important to have legal representation at this stage, as counsel will be able to determine if there is any reason and/or need to file pre-trial motions, including motions to suppress, motions to dismiss, motion for discovery, and a motion for bill of particulars. In addition, all of those filing need to meet certain deadlines, which only a lawyer will be familiar with.

At that point in time, there are several options that an accused has in order to resolve the outstanding criminal charges. First, defense counsel could work out a potential plea for the crimes charged, where the accused will know the exact penalty to be imposed. Secondly, for certain types of crime, first time offenders may be eligible for a program called ARD. Thirdly, the accused can go to trial, where an impartial jury will hear the case and render a verdict.

It is extremely important to consult with your lawyer for every stage of the criminal justice process, to ensure that your rights are protected. Failure to do so could result in loss of some of your rights, and the imposition of higher penalties.

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Davis & Davis Attorneys At Law

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Davis & Davis Attorneys at Law

Davis & Davis Attorneys At Law