I'm Innocent. Do I Still Need a Fort Lauderdale Defense Lawyer?
Occasionally our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers are asked whether an innocent person actually needs a defense attorney.
The short answer is an emphatic: “Yes!”
In a perfect world, innocence would be quickly and easily revealed, and the innocent party would be able to get on with their life. We don’t live in a perfect world. The reality is innocent people go to jail pretty much every day. Some end up convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, and even serve prison time.
Florida criminal courts do give defendants the presumption of innocence. The law also imposes the greater burden of proof on the prosecution. But that doesn’t mean it always shakes out in a way that’s perfectly fair.
As any Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney worth their salt can tell you: There’s the truth and then there’s what can be proven (or disproven). Florida criminal court rules of procedure can make seemingly simple matters such as what can be entered into evidence more complicated than they seem at first blush.
What many people fail to understand is that even when you’re innocent, your own words can be used against you. They assume “the truth will set you free,” so they sit down and speak with investigators - without the benefit of an attorney. But while law enforcement officers insist they only want the truth, they are not your friends and they are not interested in helping you clear your name. And what’s more - they’re human and make mistakes. Same with prosecutors and judges. We all want to believe justice will prevail, but unfortunately, innocence is no guarantee of being found innocent.
The best way to prove your innocence is to remain silent, avoid confrontation, and hire a highly-rated criminal defense lawyer who knows what they’re doing - and to do so as soon as possible.How Common Are Wrongful Convictions?
Wrongful convictions likely happen much more often than we’d like to believe. We can gauge it to some degree by the number of exonerations, or people who are later proven innocent upon conviction. But even that doesn’t tell the full story because not everyone who is innocent will be exonerated.
According to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization committed to exonerating those wrongly convicted, research indicates there is an overall 6 percent conviction rate. In capital cases, the wrongful conviction rate is about 4 percent.
Per the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE), more than 3,300 exonerations have been recorded in their database since 1989. In a single recent year, 233 people were exonerated, each losing an average of 9.6 years to wrongful imprisonment for crimes they didn’t commit. That's 2,245 years total - and that doesn’t include the sometimes substantial amount of time the defendants spent in jail pending trial. Of those cases, 116 were exonerated for non-violent offenses - mainly drug crimes. The rest were for violent crimes, mostly homicide.
Among the top contributing factors:
- Official misconduct.
- Mistaken witness identification.
- False confession.
- Perjury or false accusations. (This is the most frequent contributing factor.)
- False or misleading forensic evidence.
- Ineffective assistance of counsel.
About 40 percent of these cases were so-called “no-crime exonerations.” This is where it’s later revealed there was no crime. Examples would be a conviction for murder when the death was an accident or conviction for a drug crime after a corrupt police officer planted evidence. Many of these no-crime exonerations were for alleged drug crimes, and women were overrepresented as defendants. False accusations and official misconduct were the leading contributing factors.
About 20 percent of exonerations involve cases with alleged child victims. One reason this may be overrepresented is because matters involving harm to children are emotional, can pit family and friends against each other, and tend to rely on forensic evidence that presumes the injury stemmed from intentional wrongdoing.
Getting a conviction overturned on appeal is no easy matter. Only a fraction of those wrongful convicted are actually going to be exonerated - and even then, it often requires the assistance of innocence organizations. Some prosecutors’ offices across the country have established conviction integrity units to prevent, identify, and correct false convictions. These units were responsible for overturning 132 wrongful convictions in 2022, compared to 150 people exonerated with the help of innocence non-profits that same year.Why Do People Plead Guilty When They’re Innocent?
According to the NRE’s annual report, nearly half of the defendants later exonerated in no-crime cases pleaded guilty, as did 25 percent of those in all cases. Many people wonder why someone who is innocent would ever entertain a guilty plea.
As Fort Lauderdale defense lawyers can explain, it likely comes down to some combination of the pressure they feel from prosecutors and the subpar legal representation they’re getting from their defense team. Most of the exonerated who pleaded guilty later said they agreed to plea deal that had them admit guilt in exchange for avoiding the risk of a longer sentence if the case went to trial. This can seem especially advantageous if you’re going to be held in jail pending trial - which could take many months if not years.
In one case of wrongful conviction in Florida, a Pinellas County man agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter for the death of his young son. This meant a 10-year sentence compared to the possibility of life imprisonment if he was convicted of first-degree murder at trial. It was only later determined the child died of natural causes, and there was no crime to begin with.
The bottom line is that people who are innocent are not immune from arrest and conviction. It’s not enough to show up in court and claim innocence. Having an experienced defense lawyer is an imperative.
If you have been arrested in South Florida, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.