I was wondering, if an innocent person is put on trial and found guilty for a crime, let’s say murder, then a few years later, the actual murderer is found…either he hands himself in or ironclad evidence is found in his house while investigating something else (video of him doing the murder maybe).
Would the innocent person be automatically released or would they have to appeal? Is there any method in place to check if someone else has already been convicted of a crime or could the innocent person never hear about the murderer being arrested and both end up in prison for the same crime?
Is this, or something similar, known to have happened in real life?
I don’t see how someone could not hear about someone being convicted of killing the same person that they had supposedly killed, but I suppose theoretically it could happen. In the interest of justice I would hope the DA or prosecutor would notify the convicted person’s lawyer and let them know that they found someone else.
No, it’s absolutely not automatic. Some states have an ‘actual innocence’ panel to review cases where evidence comes in that the person could not have committed the crime, and other states will allow some sort of appeal process, and a direct pardon is also a possibility. A lot of the structure for this has only come about recently (last 20 years or so), before that it was even more hit or miss. The Innocence Project has done a lot of work on getting people who are provably innocent released, it is definitely something that is known to have happened in real life.
Note that there are cases where two people are deliberately charged with the same crime and might be convicted of it ‘legitimately’, for example if evidence clearly shows that one of two people shot a guy, but the prosecutor can’t prove which one, he can charge both defendants with the crime and push for a conviction in both cases.
I remember that Law and Order (though as I recall it was a bluff to get them not to sever or something). Are there any cites on actual cases where there were two completely different theories (not accomplices) proposed by the prosecution and there were two convictions? Personally I’d find it hard to believe guilty beyond a reasonable doubt if the prosecution obviously wasn’t.
Well, there are cases where the person driving the get-away car is convicted of murder when another person in a robbery kills someone. That isn’t quite what the OP had in mind, but clearly the driver had no conceivable way to kill the victim and possibly never had any intention or even knowledge of the crime-but can still be convicted of murder. So there is that possibility.
In the first or second* Book of Lists* by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace and Amy Wallace there is a list of, I think, Great Miscarriages of Justice.
As I recall one story was about an innocent guy who was imprisoned for taking part in a bank robbery. Rather than rat on a friend the actual robber had fingered this guy as his accomplice. While in prison he heard from another inmate who the real accomplice was and escaped, tracked him down, captured him and took him to the police. The real crook confessed but the hero of the story was returned to jail because he had been lawfully convicted.
Maybe someone with a copy of the book can provide some more details. I am trusting to memory about a book I read 30 odd years ago.
I had a skim of the Innocence Project page, I get the impression that it’s a private organisation, I assume this was needed since the actual justice system lacks this function.
If the prosecutor pushes for two murder convictions at the same time (assuming that it was either of them, not both together) would they drop the second case if the first is successful or keep going regardless?
There is a formal process, but it is highly unlikely that it wouldn’t be expedited quickly, and “decency” or “doing the right thing” has nothing to do with it. It would be a political landmine not to do so. Can you imagine the political hay an opponent could make out of “persecuting an innocent man” after it was proven that he was, in fact, not the person guilty of the crime for which he was imprisoned?
What planet are you writing this response from? It usually takes years for someone to be exonerated, and prosecutors usually fight tooth and nail against it. Read some of the stories on the innocence project page, like this one to get a feel for what actually happens. Anthony Wright Celebrates His Birthday and Three Years of Freedom
One must, of course, differentiate cases where a person is exonerated by subsequent evidence that they didn’t do the crime, but we’re not sure who did do it, from cases where a person is exonerated by subsequent evidence and conviction of the person who actually did do the crime. The latter grouping tends to be more quickly handled.
To the OP:
It’s not an automatic result. A legal determination has been made, and not overturned on subsequent legal review. It is, therefore, final. It can be removed, but that requires resort to the legal process, which, sadly, is never automatic.
Let’s say that incontrovertible evidence is found but the actual criminal does not want to admit defeat. Can he cite the original conviction as part of his defense?
“Your honor, it has been shown in this court that my client is recorded on video tape committing the crime and DNA evidence verifies this. But the nature of this crime is such that only one individual could have committed it. And John Smith was convicted of committing this crime ten years ago in a valid trial and his guilt is a matter of public record. Therefore, the jury must conclude that Smith did indeed commit the crime. The jury must find my client not guilty on the basis that he could not have committed a crime that somebody else committed.”
I should think any jury - and certainly any judge - with any commonsense would recognise that trials can be flawed in various ways, and that the fact of a past guilty verdict is not necessarily to be taken as absolute, eternal and incontrovertible truth. Surely any judge worth their salt would advise the jury that they’re entitled to make their own judgement on the evidence given at the trial.
If the prosecution had another person arrested for the crime and there was an innocent man behind bars it is not automatic. A judge still has to rule on the case. Most often I have seen the innocent man conditionally released with the conviction still in place and given a court date to come back in front of a judge.
Depending on the individual processes in each state the governor could also pardon him.
Not precisely. In the case reviewed by the Supreme Court, there was no question both of the defendants were at the crime scene; both participated in the home invasion and robbery. So both were guilty of murder even if only one pulled the trigger.