Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I'm always bothered by those cases where I get the right resolution, but for the wrong reasons. If my client was unjustly charged, my end goal has to be avoiding a conviction, whether that comes because I found conclusive proof of an alibi or because the complaining witness failed to show up at trial. I shouldn't get hung up on the why and just be thrilled that my client got the correct result. Right for the wrong reasons is good enough for the appellate courts; it should be good enough for me.

But there are some cases where it becomes really important to me on a personal level that the client doesn't just get the right result, but gets vindication. Some clients deserve total exoneration and anything less than that feels like a failure to me. It isn't enough for me for the prosecutor to acknowledge he can't prove his case. I want the prosecutor to acknowledge that my client didn't do anything wrong. I want the prosecutor to acknowledge that the "complaining witness" should never have been believed or that my client really wasn't the shooter.

Most often, I walk away from a dismissal of a case feeling like the prosecutor still assumes my client did exactly what the arrest warrant affidavit says he did. And this drives me crazy.


Lee said...

I don't know what state you practice in, but in California, a defendant can petition the court post-acquittal or post-dismissal for what's known as a finding of factual innocence. The benefit is a piece of paper from the court showing this finding and that the local agencies and DOJ have to destroy any record of an arrest even taking place. It will never show up on a rap sheet again. Its a pretty high standard and courts dislike granting them, at least in my county, but I have twice objected to a dismissal on day of trial if it was not accompanied by the DA supporting a finding of factual innocence. I did this only twice, in situations where the DA's back was seriously against the wall and a trial would have exposed wrongdoing on their's and the police's part, so that they had no choice but to agree AND where the finding actually mattered to my clients, both without any others criminal arrests on their RAPs, but felt good.

S said...

That is an excellent thing to be able to get. I am unaware of there being any specific procedure for something like this in my state.

As for arrest records, there is a weird black hole in our statutory procedures. The statutes provide for a way to expunge the arrest record after a successful diversion. But I can't find any provision for expunging an arrest record after a dismissal of the charge. Very frustrating.

Lee said...

Of course, the real problem is that the place an arrest that does not end in conviction is going to be most problematic is when a person goes to apply for a job and most private employers use private background check companies that simply crawl the internet and amass information on arrests and convictions and such. They do not update these records to delete an entry that is later expunged and, thus, the person is stuck with explaining it from the starting point of a presumption of wrongdoing on the potential employer's part. That is if the person even gets a chance to explain anything.

S said...

I've actually helped a couple of clients get a journal entry from the court that clearly spells out the conviction was vacated and/or charges completely dismissed. Those guys then brought copies of that JE to every job interview and attached it to every job application. They knew the record would show up, so they wanted to deal with it upfront so they would get the chance to explain.

Of course, no matter what they do, those clients are still probably going to lose out on a job or apartment because of the mere fact that there once was an arrest or charges. So unfair.

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