Prosecutors build their cases on evidence. If that evidence is incomplete, however, they may not be giving the jury the full picture. When new evidence comes to light, even after a conviction, the court may grant the defendant a new trial.
How is new evidence discovered?
Different people or groups can discover new evidence at any point during or after a trial, or even many years after sentencing. In some cases, advances in DNA technology reveal new information, a new witness could come forward or someone discovers evidence that prosecutors or the crime lab hid from the defense and the court at the time of the trial. Often, these discoveries require diligent work by attorneys or non-profit groups working for justice.
What type of evidence is allowed?
The court will not grant a new trial based on just any evidence. The evidence must be:
- New to the case and to the defendant
- Important enough that it could have changed the jurors’ minds
- Not reasonably possible for the defendant to discover during trial
In some cases, the court rules that the attorneys were at fault for not finding and producing the evidence at trial. If the defendant’s lawyer failed to do his or her due diligence, the court might overturn the conviction based on ineffective assistance of counsel. If the court decides the prosecutor purposely withheld evidence from the defendant, that could mean prosecutorial misconduct.
After the court overturns the conviction
Once the court overturns the conviction based on the new evidence or some other miscarriage of justice associated with the evidence, the case starts all over again. The prosecutor in charge of the case must decide whether to retry the defendant in a new trial, in light of the new evidence. Many times, the new evidence proves too much of a challenge and the prosecutor drops the charges or searches for a new target.
Sadly, if many years have passed, the former defendant has already lost years of his or her life behind bars and the case has gone too cold to find the guilty party, leaving victims and their families without answers. No matter how long it has been, however, it is never too late to pursue justice for someone wrongly convicted.