Actual Innocence Claim

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Is Criminal Law?

There are two categories of laws in the United States, civil laws and criminal laws. These laws are intended to punish wrongdoing or compensate victims of bad acts.

Civil laws involve conduct or behaviors that cause some type of injury to another individual or to a private party that are resolved through a lawsuit. The consequences in these types of cases if an individual is found liable are typically monetary in nature but may also include court-ordered remedies, such as injunctions or restraining orders.

Criminal laws involve behaviors that are considered offenses against the state, the public, or society, even if the victim is an individual. If an individual is convicted of a crime, they may be sentenced to jail or prison time and be required to pay criminal fines.

Whether an individual is charged with a minor crime or a serious crime, the individual who is accused, called the defendant, has a right to a trial and other legal protections.

What Is Criminal Procedure?

Criminal procedure is the legal process that is used to adjudicate a claim when an individual is accused of violating criminal laws. One of the main concepts in criminal procedure is the presumption of innocence, which means that the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty.

Criminal procedure includes:

  • Stop, detention, and arrest;
  • Search and seizure;
  • Booking and filing charges;
  • Suspect or eyewitness lineup Identifications;
  • Appointment of counsel, or the assignment of a court-appointed lawyer;
  • Plea bargaining;
  • Criminal evidence;
  • Trial;
  • Criminal sentencing;
  • Appeal; and
  • Probation and parole.

What Happens During a Criminal Trial?

Every jurisdiction has its own procedural rules. Because of this, the timing and steps in a criminal trial may vary.

All trials, however, are, in general, broken into two phases, a guilt phase and a sentencing phase. During the guilt phase, the prosecution and the defense present their case to show that the behavior of the defendant has or has not met all of the elements of the particular charge.

The prosecution is required to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the actus reus, or crime, with the mens rea, or mental state, that is required by the charge. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest burden of proof in the United States legal system.

If the judge or jury determines that all of the elements of the crime have been shown, they may find the defendant guilty. During the sentencing phase, the judge or jury uses the state or federal law that applies to determine the punishment range for the crime or crimes the defendant was convicted of.

They may examine numerous different factors, including:

  • The defendant’s criminal history;
  • Any aggravating or mitigating circumstances that are present; and
  • Other facts that may be relevant to determining the defendant’s punishment.

Once both phases of a criminal trial are complete, the convicted defendant will officially receive their punishment, which may include imprisonment, fines, or both.

What Is Actual Innocence?

A claim of actual innocence, under criminal procedure rules, is an appeal containing new evidence that was not available at the time of the defendant’s original trial. The purpose of this type of claim is to question the confidence of the jury verdict in the original case.

As noted above, an individual who is accused of committing a crime is considered innocent until they are proven guilty. A defendant may plead:

  • Not guilty;
  • No contest; or
  • Guilty.

If a defendant is found guilty after their trial, they will be sentenced to jail or prison time as well as a criminal fine, unless they can successfully prove actual innocence. Examples of actual innocence may include, but may not be limited to:

  • Alibi: With an alibi, a defendant presents evidence that they were in a different location at the time the crime occurred, making it impossible for them to have done it;
  • Mistaken identity: Although the prosecution has to prove the defendant was properly identified, the defendant can challenge the credibility of any witness who claims to have seen them commit the crime; and
  • Being framed: With this defense, the defendant claims that evidence that was falsified resulted in the creation of a case against them that did not have merit, typically by law enforcement or similar individuals of authority who had access to the crime scene or by a private party who was hoping to profit from the defendant’s misfortune.

Can New Evidence Be Presented During Trial?

New evidence can be presented during a criminal trial. All evidence is not required to be presented in discovery before the start of the trial.

Each of the parties are supposed to reveal all of the evidence they have to the other side before a trial begins. If a party wants to introduce new evidence during a trial, they must ask the court for permission to present the new evidence.

The court will either allow the evidence to be presented or determine that the evidence will be prejudicial to the other party if it is presented.

When Can I Assert Actual Innocence?

There are two situations in which a defendant can use the actual innocence defense after their trial, including:

  • The defendant did not commit the crime they are convicted of committing or witnesses mistakenly identified the defendant; or
  • The defendant did not engage in any criminal act and there is evidence to prove the original criminal allegation was false.

How Can Actual Innocence Be Established?

Actual innocence may be established by a defendant in several ways, including:

  • Bare claim;
  • Constitutional error;
  • The prosecution did not proof beyond reasonable doubt; or
  • Evidence that causes doubt in the prosecution’s arguments.

What Is a Bare Claim?

A bare claim involves presenting evidence that casts reasonable doubt about the defendant’s conviction. This type of claim may include new DNA evidence.

The new evidence presented could not have been available to the court at the time of the original trial, which is why it was not presented at that time.

What Does Constitutional Error Mean?

Constitutional error refers to a gross mistake that is made during a trial. This type of mistake may have presented evidence from being introduced that may have proved the defendant’s innocence.

For example, there may have been evidence that was suppressed or a witness who could have changed the outcome of the case. If the prosecution violates the rules of criminal procedure, it may lead to a mistrial or other serious errors.

What Does “Standard of Proof” Mean in a Criminal Trial?

In criminal trials, the standard of proof is the level of certainty with which the prosecution is required to prove the defendant’s guilt. In all criminal trials, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, as noted above.

This means that the prosecution has to prove a defendant’s guilt so that there is almost no doubt that they committed the crime. In order to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, it means that all doubts regarding the defendant’s guilt have been removed based on the evidence presented.

This standard is much higher than the preponderance of the evidence standard, used in civil cases. In civil cases, a party may be held liable if it is more likely than not that they violated the law.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you believe you may have a claim of actual innocence, it is important to consult with a criminal lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you if you may be able to present evidence of actual innocence.

Your lawyer will also be able to review your trial and determine if any criminal procedural rules were violated or there were any other issues that may require a review of your conviction.

Save Time and Money - Speak With a Lawyer Right Away

  • Buy one 30-minute consultation call or subscribe for unlimited calls
  • Subscription includes access to unlimited consultation calls at a reduced price
  • Receive quick expert feedback or review your DIY legal documents
  • Have peace of mind without a long wait or industry standard retainer
  • Get the right guidance - Schedule a call with a lawyer today!

16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer