Although there are a number of high profile wrongful conviction cases in the news, they are still a small percentage of all convictions. The news media would like to have us believe that all police investigations are tainted and that all detectives are on the take when that’s simply not true. However, there are some interesting cases that have come to light recently which are worth following. Here are our recommendations for 5 appeals cases to follow and why you should.
Adnan Syed: Convicted for the Murder of Hae Min Lee
Adnan Syed became a household name at the same time the word “podcast” was making its way into our homes. His conviction prompted a detailed look into the evidence through a new medium. The podcast has been around for a long time but had never taken off the way it did after the show “Serial” was created. The show “Serial” was created as a call to arms, if you will, in hopes that someone would know something and come forward. And that’s exactly what happened. It was the first of its kind and this is why you should follow it.
This case opened up a new way for people to learn about the law of appeals from a mainstream point of view. If you have not followed this story, we suggest you start by listening to the “Serial” podcast using an app on your smartphone (it’s free) or your tablet (also free). After you have done that, if you want more, you can go to Truth & Justice Podcast and listen to the season on Adnan. Finally, HBO has just launched a multi part series. The great thing about this series is that it focuses more on the victim which has not been done to this point.
Steven Avery: Convicted for the murder of Teresa Halbach
If you have not heard of the show “Making a Murderer”, head on over to Netflix, sit back with some popcorn and binge both seasons if you can. The reason you should see this documentary is because of the type of buzz it created all over social media and the news. This show placed the legal system front and center but not in the way that we had seen before. It wasn’t about race or religion. It was about the power of a documentary and social media. It has become a very emotional case where people on social media are split about Avery’s guilt or innocence.
Because of the media attention, Avery’s case was taken on by a new attorney. Season Two of Making a Murderer introduces Avery’s new lawyer who learns of potential DNA testing that was not done. Upon learning that the evidence was given back to the family and may be in violation of State law, she focuses her appeals in that area. As of this writing, Avery is waiting on an answer regarding a new trial and it looks like he will get it.
Brendan Dassey: The Murder of Teresa Halbach
Brendan Dassey is the other suspect and young man who is convicted in the documentary, “Making a Murderer”. We recommend following his story for a completely different reason.
Dassey’s interrogation is probably one of the most widely scrutinized. His IQ was low and he was only 16. He was questioned without his legal guardian present and it appears from the videos that he did not fully understand the consequences of the questions nor his answers. At one point in the videos he asks if he will make it back to class on time. We recommend watching and following his case because as hard as it is to believe that he was questioned in this manner, it is equally difficult to believe that he is still in prison, having won an appeal, only to have it overturned by a higher court. The Supreme Court has refused to hear the case.
Ed Ates: Early Parole
Ed Ates was questioned for the murder of a neighbor. Fearing his mother, who had a violent temper, he lied about his whereabouts that day. He was old enough to know better. He was a grown man. But that lie cost him 20 years and nobody would have predicted that. Although there was no forensic evidence tying him to the murder, Ed Ates found himself arrested and tried for murder. Twice. The first trial resulted in a mistrial. He was not so fortunate on the second trial. Convicted for 99 years, he served 20 and would have continued to serve out his sentence had Bob Ruff’s Truth & Justice podcast not learned of his case and taken up the cause. Week by week, Ed’s case was presented to its “army” of listeners. Learning of a cellmate who falsely testified led the Truth & Justice podcast to reach the Innocence Project of Texas and two attorneys to fight for his rights to release.
The reason to follow this case is because this case illustrates just what a group of compassionate people can do for another. When Ed was released from prison, he had his family but no job, no car and no clothes. With the help of those from the podcast and others, Ed was donated a truck, money, clothes and emotional encouragement and support. Ed is now out on parole, working, spending time with his family and he stays in touch with that podcast “army” that helped him. He also continues to work to clear his name.
Jodi Arias: Appeal Filed
Jodi Arias was convicted of killing her ex boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The trial was everything you would expect from a steamy novel. Jodi’s testimony alone was full of salacious excerpts from their texts and phone calls. The trial resulting in a conviction, however the jury was hung on the sentencing, resulting in a mistrial for the sentencing phase alone which is highly unusual. The second time around was no better. Still unable to decide whether she should get the death penalty or life in prison, Arizona’s law dictates that after a second deadlock on sentencing, the convicted is given life by default.
The reasons to follow this case are several. First, the trial itself has some excellent cross examination moments with Jodi on the stand as she tries to play word games with the District Attorney, Juan Martinez. She excels at making herself the center of the trial and of the controversy, both in and out of the courtroom. She often employs the media for interviews against her attorney’s advice.
Secondly, her former attorney (the one during the trial), later writes about about this time on the case and about working with Jodi. He is promptly sued by her. This results in a bar complaint and rather than dealing with Jodi again, he submits his license to practice law and continues to write his book, against her wishes.
Finally, Jodi is appealing her conviction and asking for a new trial based mainly on the fact that her original trial had a “circus” like quality. Considering that Jodi was often the center of that circus, it’s amazing that she uses this to appeal. It will be interesting to see how this argument fairs, if at all. She may have been better off using an argument more suited against her then-attorney than one she created herself.
We hope you get something from each of these cases. Appellate law is never about retrying the case on the merits, or even retrying the case at all. It is not about taking another bite at the apple, so to speak. It’s about making sure that the law was followed, that the defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated and that nothing was missed that was not previously discovered.
If you have an a conviction that you would like reviewed, contact our office.