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Can a Sentence be Overturned from New Evidence?

In Florida, the law does allow an individual convicted of a crime to move the court to overturn their conviction and sentence based upon a claim of newly discovered evidence pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850.

To qualify as “newly discovered” evidence, the defendant must demonstrate that the evidence could not have been previously obtained by due diligence during the original criminal proceedings and it must have been material enough to have altered or resulted in a different outcome; i.e., a finding of not guilty.

Most of these claims are based on DNA evidence, which was not technologically available until fairly recently. DNA evidence has exonerated many criminals, especially in rape and homicide cases, where the DNA found on murder weapons or in semen have been found to belong to someone other than the defendant.

Newly discovered evidence can also apply to witness recantations or to the discovery of witnesses who were unknown or whom the prosecution deliberately failed to disclose in certain circumstances. Recanted testimony is often very difficult to show as credible enough to even warrant an evidentiary hearing.

Timing of Motion

Generally, a motion under Rule 3.850 must be filed within two years of the final judgment or sentence. If an appeal was filed, the final judgment is the date when the appellate court affirmed the conviction. Should no appeal have been filed, the final judgment is the date when the time to file an appeal expired.

There are exceptions to this fixed rule. Should the defendant have hired an attorney to file the appeal and failed to do so, he or she may still be able to appeal. Also, if the defendant was incarcerated out of the state and had no attorney, the court may allow a motion to proceed.

In cases where the defendant has alleged that the new evidence was not known to the defendant and could not have been known or found by the exercise of due diligence, such as by the advent of DNA technology that did not exist at the time of the conviction, then the defendant can attack his or her conviction or sentence at any time.

Defendants are cautioned that if the newly discovered evidence was found while it could have been raised during the initial appeal of the conviction or sentence, it must have been raised at that time or it may not be brought again.

Contents of Motion

A motion based on newly discovered evidence must show definitive and legally sufficient proof so that if it had been known and introduced at trial or during pretrial proceedings, a different outcome would likely have occurred. The court will determine if the evidence is legally sufficient and if so, will issue an order for an evidentiary hearing to allow the defendant to prove the allegations.

If the allegations are proved and the evidence admitted, the conviction will be thrown out. At this point, the prosecution can still pursue the original charges against the defendant if it feels there is sufficient evidence to convict the defendant.

Post conviction relief is a difficult and complex procedure in which certain rules and evidentiary requirements must be strictly followed. Retain an experienced and qualified criminal defense or appellate attorney if you feel that newly discovered evidence could lead to a new trial.

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