The Aaron Hernandez case has been in the news for well over a year and has sounded like a story right out of a novel. Here we have a football star, at the height of his career, who’s living out his dream of playing for the best team in America (no football arguments pleaser!). Suddenly, his home is surrounded by police and searched. Hernandez is led out of his home and under arrest for murder. Ripe with various legal issues, this case makes its way through the litigation process. Hernandez went to trial and was convicted. During his murder trial, he is also indicted for additional murder charges in a completely separate case (for which he recently stood trial and was acquitted). Just as he began his appeals, all while claiming that he had ripe issues for appeal that his attorneys felt would be successful, Hernandez was found hanging in his cell in an apparent suicide. Rumors ran rampant for days after alleged suicide notes were found, including one to his alleged prison lover. Finally, Hernandez’s attorneys stepped in and filed a motion for his conviction to be vacated. Is that allowed? How does that happen?
In Massachusetts, the law is designed for a litigant to request his conviction be vacated under the legal principle of abatement ab initio, meaning “from the beginning.” This law is designed to vacate the conviction when a defendant dies before he has had the opportunity to exhaust all remedies of his legal process, specifically, to appeal a conviction. A defendant has a right to participate and be present for every step of his case. If he passes away during the process, he cannot participate and thus, the process never brings itself to a finality. As you can see, this only happens in a very specific set of circumstances. The analysis is very fact specific and there is little ability to argue mitigating factors. While the Commonwealth can, and did, argue that the sentence not be vacated, if the circumstances satisfy the requirements of the statute, the conviction is vacated. The law does not provide an ability to argue mitigating circumstances or other reasons why it should not be applied. Discretion is not applied here. For example, here the Commonwealth argued that Hernandez would yield certain benefits from having this conviction vacated (ie how wil this effect the civil cases, contract with the Patriots, etc.?) and consequently, that he should not have been permitted to benefit from taking his own life by doing so before his appeal was exhausted. Even if the Court agreed, here, there is no discretion allowed by the law to consider those factors and they cannot influence the Court to deny the defendant’s motion to vacate the conviction.
If you feel you have a case that needs another look, contact our office. Christine is an experienced lawyer; both at trial and appeals. She can help if you’ve been convicted at trial. You have the right to appeal — contact us today for a free consultation of your case.