We are returning to wrongful convictions and certificates of innocence, picking up where we left off in our Aug. 26 post. It is important to remember that convictions are overturned or set aside for a number of reasons. There may have been procedural errors during the investigation or the trial, for example, that could lead a court of appeals to reverse a guilty verdict. Jury instructions may have been misleading, or evidence may have been improperly obtained.
As we've said, there is another very good reason for a court to overturn a conviction: actual innocence. If someone convicted of a crime can produce new evidence that proves his or her actual innocence, the court can overturn the verdict. Exoneration is not the end of the road, though: Only a certificate of innocence will expunge that former inmate's criminal record, and there is no guarantee that a court will grant a certificate to every pardoned individual.
The court must be convinced that the petitioner's voluntary conduct did not cause his conviction. In June, a Cook County judge refused to issue a certificate for just that reason.
To understand Alstory Simon's case, we have to go back to 1982 and the shooting deaths of two people in a Chicago park. Anthony Porter had been sentenced to death for the crimes, and his execution was just two days away when Simon confessed to the murders. The confession won Porter his freedom.
That was in 1999. In 2003, Gov. George Ryan cited Porter's case to justify a moratorium on executions in the state. Seven years later, Gov. Pat Quinn took the next step: He abolished the death penalty altogether.
What was it, though, that prompted Simon to come forward? We'll explain in our next post.
Source: Prosecutor, "'Innocence Fraud' Demands Prosecutor Vigilance," John M. Collins Jr., Oct-Nov-Dec 2014, via WestlawNext