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How do convictions get overturned?

August 24, 2012
By The Wiseman Law Firm

Being convicted of a criminal offense is a serious matter that can adversely affect you and your family for the rest of your life. There are instances where convictions do get overturned. However, these are rare, and it usually involves some unusual circumstances before a Florida court will overturn your conviction.

Generally, you must appeal your conviction within 30-days after you have been sentenced. Under Florida law, an appellate court must find legal error before it will overturn your conviction.

Trial Error

Most convictions that are overturned usually occur because of trial error that was material or substantial enough to have affected the trial’s outcome. It could be evidence that the court allowed to be introduced but is considered prejudicial. Examples of trial error include:

  • Racial discrimination in selection of a jury;
  • Improper jury instruction on the applicable law or requested jury instruction
  • Biased juror;
  • Introduction of illegally obtained evidence; or
  • Insufficient evidence was introduced at trial to convict you and your motion for judgment of acquittal was denied.

For a court to hear an appeal of a criminal conviction, the defendant’s attorney must in most cases have preserved his or her objection at trial by placing the objection on the record by oral or written motion.

Even if the judge committed an error in allowing or not allowing certain evidence to be heard and considered by the jury, a court can still affirm the criminal conviction if it was harmless error. For example, if illegally obtained evidence was only part of other legally obtained evidence that is sufficient by itself to have convicted you, then there may be no prejudicial error that could overturn your conviction.

3.350 Motions

A motion must be filed for relief before a court will consider overturning or vacating a conviction. In Florida, these motions are made under Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure Sections 3.850. These motions must be made within 2 years of the final judgment and sentence with some exceptions if there is newly discovered evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel, or your plea was involuntary.

New Evidence

Under Florida law, you could get a conviction overturned if new evidence is uncovered, which could not have been obtained by due diligence during the pretrial proceedings and which could have affected the outcome.

Examples of newly discovered evidence include:

  • New credible witnesses who were unknown during the initial criminal proceedings
  • Credible witness recantations
  • Other exculpatory physical evidence such as fingerprints or DNA

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

To succeed in persuading a court that your attorney was so ineffective that you were denied due process, you must specifically detail how effective assistance could have resulted in your acquittal or possible conviction on a lesser charge. Examples include the following:

  • Failure to investigate the facts and circumstances of your case;
  • Failure to object to introduction of certain evidence;
  • Failure to advise of a plea offer of the material consequences of accepting or rejecting a plea; or
  • Failure to preserve material issues for appeal

Courts may agree that your representation was not up to certain standards, but may disagree that it amounts to serious incompetence. It may also find that the attorney used certain strategies that only misfired.

Withdrawing Your Plea

If you allege an involuntary plea, you can file a motion to withdraw it under Section 3.170 of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure but it must be done within 30-days of your sentence. A denial of your motion is appealable.

Examples of an involuntary plea include:

  • Plea was coerced by fear or certain promises;
  • Counsel failed to advise you of the consequences of the plea such as deportation;
  • The incorrect sentence was imposed based on the guidelines; or
  • You were improperly advised of the sentence.

After the Motion is Filed

If you file a 3.850 motion, it will be heard by the trial court. Once the court reads and considers the arguments of both sides, it will either affirm the conviction or rule that the claims are sufficient and order an evidentiary hearing.

At this hearing, your attorney can be called to testify. The attorney-client privilege is waived regarding these kinds of motions. It can also take up to 2 years for the court to issue a ruling. If the court rules against you, your attorney can appeal the decision.

To know more about your appellate rights contact a criminal appellate law firm.

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