When someone who is suspected of committing a crime enters a plea of guilty, it usually appears as though the gears of the justice system are turning easily; part of a much larger, well-oiled machine. In the majority of situations like this, by entering a guilty plea, the person ceases to be a suspect and becomes a convicted criminal, It might seem at this stage that justice is served and the case is closed.
However, while it's not something that happens very often, there are some circumstances in which someone who pleaded guilty (or accepted a plea agreement) can then later file for an appeal to their conviction and their sentence.
A lack of professional or thorough legal counsel
One of the most frequently cited reasons for seeking an appeal following a guilty plea is poor and ineffective legal counsel. This usually stems from feeling that either the terms of the plea negotiation were not adequately defined to the defendant by their attorney, misleading them to accept a plea bargain that was not truly in their best interest or that their attorney failed to negotiate on their behalf at all.
Proving that your public defender failed to do their job to vigorously defend your rights can be very tricky. The most successful claims of insufficient legal counsel seem to be in situations where the defendant rejected - not accepted - a plea bargain deal, but only because their attorney didn't make the details of the deal clear to them.
Because this can be so difficult to prove to an appellate court, it really is best to claim this kind of appeal only if you are very confident that your attorney mishandled your initial plea. However, if you do have clear proof that things went awry with your original attorney, find an attorney who can actually help you file to appeal your conviction.
Maintaining actual innocence and fighting wrongful conviction
A very recent example of persistence eventually winning the day was brought to light at the end of March, when 41-year-old Marco Contreras had his conviction overturned after 20 long years in prison, serving a life sentence for a crime that he had no part in. Contreras had been misidentified by an eyewitness to an attempted murder and robbery at a gas station in Compton, California, which occurred in 1996.
While this was not a case in which the defendant pled guilty to accept a plea bargain - Contreras has staunchly maintained his innocence from day one - it is still a shining example of belief in our unfortunately flawed, but well-intentioned justice system in the United States. And the more cases of this nature, where a tragically wrongful conviction finally has a day in the spotlight and the wrong is righted, the better it is for all of us.
Marcos Contreras and his family kept seeking assistance, for twenty years, until finally connecting with Loyola Law School graduate Ricardo Perez. Perez, who took the case after speaking to the Contreras family, reading the transcripts of the trial and finally meeting with Marcos himself where he was being held at the Calipatria State Prison, spent five long years working to free Marcos. The end of the 20-year imprisonment for a crime he didn't commit also led to the arrest of the men who did commit it, finally setting the balance right again.
It's never too late if justice is on your side
It's never too late to appeal or fight to correct a conviction that was not handled correctly. If you, a friend or family member could benefit from legal advice regarding a conviction similar to those mentioned above, don't hesitate. Contact our offices today to speak to someone about a free case evaluation. We look forward to hearing from you.