New Measure to Allow State Attorneys to Bring Motions to Vacate Based on Evidence of Innocence

January 4, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Wrongful convictions are a prevalent and systemic issue in Florida’s justice system. In fact, Florida has the highest rate of overturned wrongful convictions in the United States.

Two new bills have been filed concerning wrongfully convicted defendants. The news bills would allow prosecutors to file a motion to abandon a judgment when they believe a defendant has been wrongfully convicted.

Although the bills have not yet been passed, it is important to look at both bills and see what exactly it would mean for attorneys and defendants, as well as the reactions to the two bills.

What are the Bills?

The two bills are listed as SB 1200, “Wrongful Convictions”, and HB 653, “Vacating Erroneous Convictions”. Republican Senator Aaron Bean from Jacksonville filed SB 1200 on December 8. Democratic Representative Mike Gottlieb from Sunrise filed a companion bill, HB 653, on September 17.

SB 1200 covers wrongful convictions, stating authorizing attorneys to file a motion to set aside a judgment if they have evidence or information to prove a convicted person is innocent. It would require the court to appoint counsel for such a convicted person if they do not otherwise have legal counsel. It authorizes the appeal of a denial of the prosecuting attorney’s motion to vacate a judgment by any party. The passing of the new bill would create Section 925.13 of the Florida Statutes stating, “motion to vacate based on evidence of innocence.”

HB 653 discusses vacating erroneous convictions and is meant to provide for motions by state attorneys to vacate a conviction if they have evidence that the convicted is innocent. It provides for the appointment of a public defender for an indigent defendant and provides for appeal of the decision to abandon judgment.

The bills would require a court hearing scheduled within 90 days to grant the motion. The prosecutor from the same agency would need to file a motion from the same court where the defendant was convicted. The motion would be granted if “the court finds there is clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence.” The victim or the victim’s family would have to be notified of all court dates and would reserve the right to speak at the hearing.

Reactions to the Wrongful Conviction Bills

There are mixed reviews regarding the two proposed bills. On one hand, there has been praise for the bills. The president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Jude Faccidomo, has said that the wrongful convictions of defendants is “a sad reality of our justice system.” He continued to claim that there is implicit bias, ineptitude, human error, and misconduct that are all considered uncontrollable variables that contribute to the systemic issue of wrongful convictions. Read more about common causes of wrongful conviction – eyewitness identification and racial bias – here.

Another opinion is slightly more neutral, claiming that there is nothing objectionable about the proposed bills. Jack Campbell, the Second Judicial Circuit State Attorney, said he doesn’t see anything about the bills that would bother him. However, he also does not see a dire need for them either.

He brought up that state attorneys have already been working towards exonerating wrongfully convicted defendants. As an example, he brought up how the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney, William Gladson, went to the circuit court to convince them that the “Groveland Four” were innocent. The four black defendants were wrongfully convicted of rape in the 1940s.

Campbell explained that attorneys were already aware of what to do in the situation where defendants were wrongfully convicted. “It’s just what we do,” he claimed.

Only time will tell if the bills will be successfully passed. The mixed reviews show that while some attorneys believe it will do a lot of good, others think there are already examples where attorneys get wrongfully convicted out of jail. Either way, it shows that there is a need to work to get wrongfully convicted people free.

On December 13, HB 653 was referred to several subcommittees for further review. If passed, this bill would go into effect on July 1, 2022. SB 1200 has not yet been reviewed, since it was filed recently. However, it would also go into effect on July 1, 2022 if passed.

Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

As we head into the new year, it’s important to be aware of all of your legal options. If you or someone you love has been accused of a crime this year, your first step should be reaching out to a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney. Receiving quality legal advice can be the difference between high fines and jail time or walking away free. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have the experience and skills required to defend your case. Don Pumphrey is prepared to stand in your corner and aggressively fight for your freedom. Don’t let one mistake affect your future. Start the new year right with the right legal help. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message and receive a free consultation regarding your case.

 This article was written by Karissa Key

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