The goal of the United States criminal justice system is to seek the truth in every case. However, over recent decades, society as a whole has come around to the idea that sometimes the system gets it wrong. Indeed, many people who are arrested are never charged or are acquitted by a jury and, by some estimates, as many as five percent of those convicted of a crime were actually innocent. At the Los Angeles criminal appeals and post-conviction law firm of Power Trial Lawyers, we proudly assist clients in pursuing claims of factual innocence. Through our zealous advocacy and strategic litigation, we’ve secured the release of several clients over the course of the last few years alone.What Is a Claim of Factual Innocence?
In a criminal trial, the prosecution presents evidence to prove that the defendant committed the charged offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury does not believe the prosecution met its burden, it will return a verdict of not guilty, also known as an acquittal. However, this does not necessarily mean that the defendant was factually innocent; only that the government failed to prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Factual innocence comes up when a defendant did not commit the crime in question. In the pre-trial/trial context, this means that the defendant was either never charged with a crime after being arrested, the prosecution withdrew charges, or they were acquitted by a judge or jury.
However, even if any of these above situations apply, the defendant is still left with an arrest record, which may hinder their employment and education prospects.Factual Innocence Under Penal Code § 851.8
Under California Penal Code § 851.8, anyone who was detained, arrested or charged (but not convicted) of a crime can pursue a certificate of factual innocence by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the convicting court. To obtain a certificate of factual innocence, you must establish that there was no reasonable cause to believe that you committed the offense for which you were arrested. If the court grants the petition, law enforcement must seal and destroy any and all records of your arrest.
If you were arrested but never charged, you must file your petition with the law enforcement agency that arrested you. You must also serve a copy on the district attorney for the corresponding county.
If you were arrested and charged, you must file your petition directly with the court you were charged in and serve a copy to the district attorney’s office. The court will then hold a hearing where the prosecution must present evidence if it intends to contest your petition.
In either event, if the court determines that you are factually innocent, it will order law enforcement to seal and destroy all records of the arrest.Factual Innocence After Conviction
There is also the possibility of claiming factual innocence after conviction; however, § 851.8 will not apply. To pursue a claim of actual innocence, you must file a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the convicting court. However, these claims can be exceptionally challenging, especially if they are unrelated to any underlying claims of error, such as withholding or evidence or prosecutorial misconduct. However, an experienced Los Angeles post-conviction lawyer may be able to help inmates seeking to establish their actual innocence.Were You Arrested for a Crime You Didn’t Commit?
If you were arrested or convicted of a crime that you did not commit, reach out to Power Trial Lawyers to learn more about your options. Through a petition for writ of habeas corpus, you may be able to obtain a petition of factual innocence or, if you were convicted, overturn your conviction. Power Trial Lawyers has a lengthy track record of success assisting inmates across California in obtaining all types of post-arrest and post-conviction relief, and looks forward to learning how we can help you. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Barhoma today, call 213-800-7664. You can also reach us through our online contact form.