Wrongful Conviction Lawyer
Thousands of people are wrongfully convicted of crimes every year, thanks in part to false confessions, police misconduct, and improper witness identifications. Our wrongful conviction lawyers in Florida help clients restore their reputations and secure just compensation for blatant civil rights violations.
Wrongful convictions aren’t all that uncommon. It’s estimated that anywhere between 2 percent and 10 percent of the nation’s prisoners are, in fact, innocent. Wrongful convictions happen every day, and innocent citizens pay dearly for it — losing their livelihoods, futures, and families.
If you or a family member has been wrongfully convicted in Florida, call O’Mara Law Group. Your civil rights have been violated, and our wrongful conviction lawyers will help you fight to make things right.
Founding attorney Mark O’Mara is board certified in criminal trial law and has gained national recognition for his compelling civil rights work. He and his award-winning legal team are ready to leverage decades of experience to win your case and prove your innocence.
What is a wrongful conviction?
When you’re convicted of a crime, it means that you’re found guilty in a court of law, either by a judge or a jury.
In Florida, the state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt to get a conviction. In theory, this decreases the likelihood of innocent people being put behind bars or punished for crimes they didn’t commit.
However, thousands of people are wrongfully incarcerated every year.
Wrongful conviction occurs when a factually innocent person is convicted of a crime that they did not commit (or a crime that never happened).
Wrongful Conviction Statistics
Research is varied but suggests that the wrongful conviction rate in the United States is as high as 10 percent. That could mean that for every 10 convictions, one innocent person is punished for a crime they didn’t commit.
Since 1989, more than 3,300 American prisoners have been exonerated. It’s been proven that they were, in fact, not guilty of alleged crimes, and they have been released from prison.
Wrongful conviction comes with serious costs. Together, these wrongfully convicted individuals lost more than 28,450 years of their lives.
On average, a wrongfully convicted person loses 8.6 years of their life.
In Florida, there have been at least 90 exonerations recorded since 1989. These wrongfully convicted Floridians lost a total of 941 years of their lives — about 10.5 years each.
The Innocence Project of Florida alone handles roughly 1,000 cases of wrongful conviction annually.
Why are people wrongfully convicted?
How are people wrongfully convicted if the state has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt?
Ultimately, there are a few common themes among cases in which individuals are incorrectly found guilty.
Research suggests that 69 percent of wrongful convictions are due to eyewitness misidentification. A key witness mistakenly (or improperly) identifies a suspect, and their testimony is enough to establish the prosecution’s case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Not all eyewitness testimony happens at trial. Most mistakes are made when a witness is asked to pick a suspect out of a photo array. Those mistakes account for 52 percent of all eyewitness misidentifications.
About one out of every four incorrect identifications involves a composite sketch of a suspect, whereas 11 percent happen when a witness improperly identifies a suspect’s voice.
In its review of more than 2,400 exonerations, the National Registry of Exonerations found that government misconduct contributed to wrongful convictions in 54 percent of cases.
Experts believe that this figure underrepresents the extent to which police and prosecutorial misconduct puts innocent people behind bars.
Government misconduct can include:
- Planting evidence
- Illegal searches and seizures
- Witness tampering
- Coercing false confessions
- Fabricating evidence
- Concealing exculpatory evidence
- Misconduct at trial (e.g., lying under oath)
- Witness intimidation
These are all blatant acts of police misconduct and devastating violations of a suspect’s civil rights. Unfortunately, the motivation to have a high conviction record appears to be greater than the motivation to protect and serve the citizens of the United States.
Many people are wrongfully convicted based, in part, on their own testimony. According to the Innocence Project, false confessions are present in about 29 percent of wrongful convictions, with about half of those confessions coming from people under the age of 22.
A person may confess to a crime they didn’t commit because they’re being intimidated by gangs or people they know, coerced by the police, or fearful for their lives for some other reason. Nearly one out of every 10 people who falsely confess to a crime suffers from a mental health disorder or is disabled.
Sometimes people are falsely accused by the real perpetrators and other times by the police. It’s believed that false accusations are present in about seven out of 10 cases in which people are wrongfully convicted.
These false accusations can happen at any point in time during criminal proceedings but are often accompanied by perjury and false testimony.
Improper Use or Analysis of Forensic Evidence
Forensic evidence, including fingerprints, blood tests, urinalysis, and DNA tests, can be strong evidence in a criminal case. However, there’s plenty of room for error in their use and analysis. Many times, it’s discovered that a conviction is based on improperly handled evidence, erroneous readings, unclear lab results, or sample misidentification.
Racism, Discrimination, and Bias
Black Americans make up about 13 percent of the population and 40 percent of the nation’s prison inmates. However, half of all exonerations recorded over the past three decades have involved black inmates.
Statistics show that black Americans, compared with white Americans, are 12 times more likely to be convicted of a drug crime, seven times more likely to be convicted of murder, and 3.5 times more likely to be convicted of sexual assault.
Several bodies of research suggest that biases against non-white Americans play a substantial role in improper traffic stops, illegal searches and seizures, and inaccurate assumptions of criminal activity. Ultimately, these can contribute to wrongful conviction and mass incarceration, especially for violent crimes.
What happens if I prove that I’ve been wrongfully convicted of a crime in Florida?
If you believe that you’ve been wrongfully convicted of a crime in Florida, you can appeal the lower court’s decision. In an appeal, you (the defendant) assume the burden of proof. It’s up to you and your attorney to prove your innocence and identify procedural errors that put you behind bars.
It’s important to hire an experienced Florida trial attorney to handle your wrongful conviction appeal.
A thorough, detailed investigation into the underlying criminal charges and a careful assessment of your criminal proceedings will be required. Your attorney will retrace every step and go over every detail of your case, searching for evidence that you’ve been wrongfully convicted.
You’ll have to meet strict deadlines and comply with detailed and nuanced court rules. Even minor missteps can derail your appeal.
Once your conviction is overturned, you can seek compensation under Florida’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. You must file a declaration for wrongful conviction within 90 days of an order vacating your conviction.
There are two paths to compensation under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act:
- The prosecution certifies that you are innocent, that no issues of fact remain, and that no further criminal charges will be sought, or
- An administrative law judge finds innocence by clear and convincing evidence.
Under the law, you can be awarded up to $50,000 per year, adjusted for inflation and cost of living, up to $2 million. You can also recover the costs of your attorneys’ fees, related court costs, and fines you were ordered to pay. The state can also award tuition for up to 120 credit hours at a college, university, or career center.
Can I get the wrongful conviction removed from my criminal record?
Yes. If you win your case under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, your wrongful conviction should be automatically expunged from your criminal record.
This helps you sidestep the responsibility of going through the process of sealing or expunging your criminal record on your own.
Once your criminal record is expunged, there will be no formal record of your conviction. However, expungement will not erase every trace of your arrest, criminal case, or conviction. Details about your case may still be found online or in private databases. It’s important to work closely with an attorney to have factually inaccurate information removed.
Nationally-Acclaimed Wrongful Conviction Lawyers Ready to Fight For You
A wrongful conviction can have an impact on every aspect of your life.
It can ruin your marriage or relationship.
It can interfere with your ability to spend time with your children.
It can cause you to lose your job and professional license.
It can destroy your reputation and devastate your future.
The best way to get your life back is by proving that you’ve been wrongfully convicted and fighting to hold the state of Florida accountable for the mistake it made in putting you behind bars.
The best first step is hiring an experienced wrongful conviction lawyer in Florida.
At O’Mara Law Group, we fight for our clients’ civil rights every day. We represent victims of police misconduct, prison abuse, and sexual assault, and clients like you who have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.
Our record of success is unparalleled, as is our client satisfaction. Our lawyers for wrongfully convicted individuals are here to help you during this traumatic time. Call our law office in Orlando or Lakeland to learn more. Your first consultation is free and confidential.
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