Should convictions be overturned if appeals are cut short by death?

Referencing this story on the overturning of the Aaron Hernandez murder conviction because of his suicide before his appeal was heard, following Massachussetts law.

Firstly do many states have this law? And secondly is it a good law or a bad one? It does appear, as the prosecutor said, to reward suicide but on the other hand you have the principle that everyone has a right of appeal (even, it seems, dead people!)

I really don’t know which is the right way to go on this one.

Interesting and thorough pdf about “abatement ab initio” from the Fordham Law Review.

I didn’t know that Kenneth Lay of Enron “fame” had his ten counts of conspiracy and fraud posthumously vacated using this same method.

In cases like this one, where the outcome of the criminal trial could have an effect on a future civil action, I don’t understand why (in principle) the defendant’s estate couldn’t continue the appeal process. It seems to me that would be significantly fairer than vacating the conviction if the defendant dies.

Because the heirs don’t have the personal knowledge of the events that the accused had.

It’s an aspect of the presumption of innocence: the presumption is not exhausted until all appeals are final.

Why should the heirs of a deceased person have to pay for a crime they didn’t commit?
Even if the accused is 100% guilty, and could be found as such in a court of law. The heirs would have to pay for the settlement if it went by your logic. Unless the heirs were in on the crime (and they should have their own trial if this is the case), they shouldn’t be punished for actions they did not take.

They aren’t “paying” anything. They are just inheriting a smaller estate. Nothing comes directly out of their pocket. By your logic, if My father dies with $10,000 in the bank and $10,000 in credit debt, I should get the 10K and the credit card company should get nothing. Why should I have to pay for things I didn’t benefit from?

It’s asking a lot for taxpayers to fund appeals for a dead man, because the outcome might affect a civil case in the future. That money can surely be put to better use elsewhere in the criminal justice system.

In this particular case, his estate may benefit significantly from the vacatur of his conviction, in that the Patriots may be obliged to pay bonuses and back salary that they withheld based on his conviction.

But aren’t appeals about how the case was conducted and not a retrial of the facts?

I don’t think this is correct. A person is presumed innocent only up to the point of their initial conviction.

It does not seem to be so much the presumption of innocence as the presumption that an appeal will be upheld.

But it seems like a silly law. Hernandez was convicted. Why should his conviction be voided just because he offed himself? I understand that his heirs will get more money if his conviction were overturned, but what does that have to do with anything? They aren’t entitled to it - Hernandez shouldn’t get the money, because he is guilty of murder. He shouldn’t pass along money he isn’t entitled to.


Does this mean the case is re-opened, or does this mean that some poor soul was officially murdered by…nobody?

The same thing that happens in any other murder-suicide.

Add to this the recent SCOTUS ruling in Nelson v Colorado that fines paid must refunded for persons whose criminal convictions are overturned.

So now will a defendant duly convicted be able to give his family a windfall by offing himself? Would the courts consider a conviction vacated under such circumstances be sufficient to force a refund of fines and/or restitution paid upon conviction?

No matter what, the surviving family members of the victim can civilly sue Hernandez’s estate for wrongful death or its equivalent to recover actual monetary losses and to seek expected earnings/punitive damages if the given state’s law allows. Since the evidentiary burden of civil lawsuits is much lower than that of criminal trials (preponderance of the evidence versus proof beyond a reasonable doubt), not being able to use the conviction as evidence in a civil trial might not be a problem if all the other evidence still exists (and it almost certainly would given the pendancy of an appeal) and if transcripts of sworn testimony from the trial are admissible as evidence.

Except this isn’t the case. The Pats withheld bonuses and back salary and cut ties before his conviction. It was the arrest and his behavior around that time which was the problem. If he’d been acquitted initially it wouldn’t have made a difference, and vacating the conviction won’t matter either.

You see, two hours after he was arrested they were done with him. This isn’t unusual; teams don’t want to be associated with a person who gets a bad rep.

It shouldn’t. What is the legal difference between suicide and choosing not to appeal your conviction?

I’m going to guess that it’s the fact that the conviction was appealed.

I’m not a lawyer, but I think its stupid. They should stick the case in a file cabinet labeled, “Dead Murderers”.