Illinois is not the only state nor is Chicago the only city that time and again finds itself addressing wrongful convictions. It may be a coincidence that the stories are remarkably similar regardless of where they took place. A crime occurs. The police identify a suspect, usually a young man, and detain him. He is questioned for hours, often lied to or tricked one way or another, until he signs a confession. That confession leads to a plea bargain, or a jury finds him guilty. He ends up in prison, serving a sentence that will keep him there for decades, if not the rest of his life.
These days, advances in forensics may reduce the number of people who are wrongfully convicted. More sophisticated DNA testing has certainly played a role in exonerating the inmates that are actually innocent. As we said in our last post, one Illinois man received a record $20 million from the state after serving 20 years of a life sentence for a crime he did not commit.
There are exceptions, of course. Not every case involves police misconduct; not every offender whose conviction is overturned is actually innocent of the crime that sent him or her to prison. The latter is one of the reasons the state will not expunge a wrongfully convicted man or woman's criminal record without a certificate of innocence. The certificate is proof that the court was convinced of this person's actual innocence.
A June 2015 Cook County case that illustrates that point came to our attention recently. The inmate successfully petitioned the court to overturn his conviction. When considering the petition for a certificate of innocence, though, the judge looked to one provision of the statute that may be, for some, easy to overlook. The offender failed to convince the court that he did not, by his own conduct, voluntarily cause his conviction.
The story offers enough twists and turns that even Columbo would have trouble following it. We'll explain in our next post.
Source: Washington Times, "Judge denies freed Illinois man certificate of innocence," June 18, 2015