Can a criminal conviction be overturned based on newly discovered evidence?

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What Qualifies as Newly Discovered Evidence in a Criminal Case?

The Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 926.2, describes what qualifies as newly discovered evidence. This applies to an individual already convicted of a criminal offense but who now claims factual innocence. This applies even if the convicted individual previously pled guilty or nolo contendere (no contest) before discovering new evidence. The person may seek relief after their trial verdict is issued if the evidence found is:

  • New: The information brought before the court must not have been known or discoverable at or before the time of the trial.
  • Reliable: The information cannot be of questionable origin or authenticity. It should be a clearly documentable fact.
  • Noncumulative: Evidence that simply builds on or expands existing evidence is not permissible.
  • Legally admissible: Some types of evidence are not permissible in court. For example, hearsay is not acceptable evidence in Louisiana and most states. An experienced criminal defense lawyer would be able to evaluate the legal validity of new evidence.

The Code further specifies that the type of evidence must fall into one of the following categories:

  1. It must be “scientific, forensic, physical, or nontestimonial documentary evidence.” Examples include:
    • DNA samples
    • Fingerprints
    • Toxicology reports
    • Photographic evidence
    • Surveillance video footage
    • Documents or records
    • Forensic analysis of firearms/bullets/cartridge casings
    • Digitally stored information (such as emails, texts, and internet history)

2. It must be testimonial evidence, as in statements from a valid witness, corroborated by scientific or documentary evidence such as that listed above.

3. A witness withdrawing their previous testimony may only be considered new evidence if it is additionally substantiated by forensic or documentary evidence, as covered in point 1 above.

Can Newly Discovered Evidence Overturn a Conviction?

To prove the convicted person’s right to post-conviction relief on account of new evidence, the convicted must present a petition to the court. If approved, the legal path to potentially overturn a criminal conviction is open. The judge, upon review of the petition, must find that:

  • The items or statements being submitted qualify as new evidence as covered in Article 926.2.
  • When the new evidence is considered against the evidence provided at trial, it proves to be so compelling that it strongly suggests the petitioner’s innocence or raises significant doubt about their guilt.
  • In the view of the judge, no rational juror would have found the petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt had they been informed of this new evidence at the time of the trial.

Additionally, if the petitioner pled guilty or nolo contendere to the offense he was convicted of, he must prove to the judge that:

  • He consistently asserted innocence before pleading guilty or nolo contendere.
  • He could not have known or discovered the evidence indicating his factual innocence prior to pleading guilty or nolo contendere.

What Do I Do If I Believe I Have New Evidence that Could Change My Conviction?

If you believe you have new evidence that could change the outcome of your case or reverse a criminal conviction, you should contact a Louisiana criminal defense lawyer immediately. While it may be possible to outline the basic steps to filing a petition or requesting an appeal, no brief description can adequately replace the full breadth of knowledge, experience, and skill required to handle such a case.

What Legal Implications Should I Be Aware of When Filing for Post-Conviction Relief?

If you seek post-conviction relief in Louisiana, you only have two years to file your claim. Petitions submitted after the limitation period will be refused. You should also know that if post-conviction relief is granted for a particular offense, it does not prevent the petitioner from being retried on this offense or tried for related or lesser offenses based on the facts presented in the original trial.

Unlawful Suppression of Evidence: Know Your Rights

If you feel like a victim of the system, a greater knowledge of your situation can empower you. Certain rights and prior findings in case law have been established to protect you from abuse.

Your Rights Under the U.S. Constitution

You have the right to due process of law as covered in US Constitutional Amendment 14, Section 1:

“… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
It is this amendment that is the basis of my civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It ensures that all U.S. citizens are given fair justice and treated equally when it comes to the application of the law.

Important Case Law: Obtain Justice, Not Just a Conviction

Louisiana state laws regarding handling new evidence discovered in criminal cases are primarily based on a landmark Supreme Court case called Brady vs. Maryland.

In this 1963 case, a man named John Brady was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. After Brady’s conviction, it was discovered that the state prosecution had suppressed mitigating evidence. Donald Boblit, Brady’s accomplice, had made a statement confessing that he was the shooter, but this was hidden from the court and jury by the prosecution.

In a landmark finding, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote the majority opinion of the court that suppression of evidence favorable to the accused is a violation of the defendant’s due process rights. It is now a broadly accepted standard that when evidence is relevant and significant “to either guilt or punishment,” the prosecution must share it with the defense. The Brady vs. Maryland case was also instrumental in demonstrating the importance that criminal cases should not just achieve a conviction but should achieve a just outcome with all evidence considered.

Whiddon Criminal Defense Knows the Law

When your family, life, and freedom are at stake, it is time to call the professionals. At Whiddon Criminal Defense, we know the law and the steps we need to take to protect your rights in difficult criminal cases that require finesse and tact. We are tenacious advocates and will fight for your rights and future. Don’t wait. Contact us for a private consultation today at (318) 594-3592.

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