The Case Review Process
Our work is time consuming and tedious. The glamor, glory and outright fun of an exoneration happens only at the end of what can be a very long road. We explain the process here in great detail so you know what's involved and can understand why your support is so urgently needed and so greatly appreciated.
Stage 1 starts with the initial contact, usually a letter. If the letter is unrelated to a claim of actual innocence, the matter is closed. If the letter passes the initial eligibility screen, we will send a detailed questionnaire to get a more comprehensive understanding of the case. When the questionnaire comes back, we review it carefully. Sometimes, you may know you're onto something right away (for example, where DNA testing could prove innocence). Other times, you're just asking if it's possible that the person could be innocent. As long as that door stays open, we continue.
Stage 2 is the "desktop/paper" review and the field investigation. Every known piece of information related to the case is gathered.
- Trial transcript
- Appeals documents
- Police file
- District Attorney file
- Media coverage file
- Any/all other files/documents that may help shed light on the case
There are two challenges during this stage. One, some records can be very hard to get. Criminal justice agencies will often put up a fight just to get the records. This, of course, causes painful delays in conducting a proper review. Second, even if we get access to records, it can cost a fair chunk. And we HAVE to have the records. This is a critical area where your investment really, really helps.
A thorough case review will:
- Scan and organize the entire file, including a timeline
- Read the file
- Feed what you learn into a case theory (how this person could be innocent) memo
- Add the investigation plan
- Do what is on the investigation plan
- Add that to the theory memo
- Look at the timeline again
- Add what you find to the theory memo
As you can see, we sort of go around the block several times. What didn't turn up on the second go around may well turn up on the tenth go around. In an exoneration case, at some point, one or more newly discovered facts that prove innocence will be uncovered. Once we have enough "ammunition" that we are confident will allow us to prevail in court, we proceed to litigation.
Stage 3 launches the legal effort toward the exoneration. In Texas there are different routes depending on the specifics of the case. If we want a DNA test, we file under the statute that governs that approach. If we're alleging flawed science as wrongful conviction culprit, there is a statute the governs obtaining relief on those grounds. And there is the traditional "habeas" petition, where we introduce any sort of new evidence we believe is sufficient to overturn the conviction.
In each case, however, the case is taken back to the original trial court. If all goes well, we are granted a hearing to show our work. After that, the judge overturns (or "vacates") the conviction along with a judicial finding of actual innocence (or other/additional grounds). The district attorney will then typically drop all charges. Our client comes home and then files for state compensation.
Rarely, however is it as "easy" as described above. Each case features its own ups and downs, high points and low points. But in the end, with persistence, justice prevails and a wrong is made right.