The Case Review Process
Our work is time consuming and tedious. The glamor, glory and outright fun of an exoneration happens only at the end of what can be a very long road. We explain the process here in great detail so you know what's involved and can understand why your support is so urgently needed and so greatly appreciated.
Screening: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
Stage 1 starts with the initial contact, usually a letter. If the letter is unrelated to a claim of actual innocence, the matter is closed. Requests that are ineligible for our help make up the majority of the files we close.
If the letter passes the initial eligibility screen, we will send a detailed questionnaire to get a more comprehensive understanding of the case. When the questionnaire comes back, we review it carefully. Sometimes, you may know you're on to something right away (for example, where DNA testing could prove innocence). Other times, you're just asking if it's possible that the person could be innocent. As long as that door stays open, then the file will pass to Stage 2a.
Investigation: Finding the Needle in the Haystack
Stage 2 is the "paper" review and the field investigation. Every known piece of information related to the case is gathered.
- Trial transcript
- Appeals documents
- Police file
- District Attorney file
- Media coverage file
- Any/all other files/documents that may help shed light on the case
There are two sticklers during this stage. One, some records can be very hard to get. Criminal justice agencies will often put up a fight just to get the records. This of course causes painful delays in doing a proper review. Second, even if we get access to records, it can cost a fair chunk. And we HAVE to have the records. This is a critical area where your investment really, really helps.
A good case review will:
- Scan the entire file and order chronologically by date of authorship
- Interpolate dates of action contained in all documents
- Read the file in that order, feeding what you learn into an argumentative case theory memo
- Add to an investigation plan as you go along
- Do what is on investigation plan
- Add that to the theory memo
- Look at the timeline again
- Add what you find to the theory memo
As you can see, you sort of go around the block several times. What didn't turn up on the second go around may well turn up on the tenth go around. In an exoneration case, at some point, one or more newly discovered facts that prove innocence will be uncovered. Once we have enough "ammunition" that we are confident will allow us to prevail in court, we proceed to litigation.
Litigation: The Pursuit of Justice
Stage 3 launches the legal effort toward the exoneration. In Texas there are different routes depending on the specifics of the case. If we want a DNA test, we file under the statute that governs that approach. If we're alleging flawed science as wrongful conviction culprit, there is a statute the governs obtaining relief on those grounds. And there is the traditional "habeas" petition where we introduce any sort of new evidence we believe is sufficient to overturn the conviction.
In each case, however, the case is taken back to the original trial court. If all goes well, we are granted a hearing to show our work. After that, the judge overturns (or "vacates") the conviction along with a judicial finding of actual innocence. Our client comes home and then files for compensation.
Rarely, however is it as "easy" as described above. Each case features its own ups and downs, high points and low points. But in the end, with persistence, justice prevails and a wrong is made right.