“The Fugitive” television series and film franchise of the same name is based on one of the most famous (or infamous, depending on a person's perspective of the case) series of proceedings involving an attempt to overturn a criminal conviction. The case arose in the state of Ohio and involved a doctor by the name of Sam Sheppard.
In the mid-1950s, Sheppard was convicted for the murder of his wife Marilyn. Despite the conviction, Sheppard steadfastly maintained his innocence. About a decade later, Sheppard won the right to a retrial and was acquitted of the alleged crime.
In the case of Sam Sheppard, he was serving his sentence when he was able to prevail in obtaining a second trial and then ultimately an acquittal. The reality is that there are men and women who have been convicted of crimes in Ohio, who have completed their sentences and still desire to find a way to have their convictions overturned. Although a challenging endeavor, there is a pathway provided by a combination of laws and court decisions in Ohio that can permit a person to pursue overturning a conviction even after the sentence imposed in a particular case has been completely served.
If a person desires to challenge a conviction immediately after it occurs, the normal course is a direct appeal to a higher court in the state. With that said, there exist very specific (and short) time limitations as to when a direct appeal can be lodged. The net result is that a direct appeal generally is not available to a person who wants to challenge a conviction for a crime after that individual has served the sentence imposed by the court.
On a related note, an incarcerated person also has the option of attempting to pursue what is called a petition for writ of habeas corpus after the time for filing an appeal passes. By definition, this type of action presumes that a person is incarcerated and in the midst of serving a sentence – and is therefore unavailable to an individual who seeks redress regarding an old conviction when a sentence is completed.
The legal vehicle that a person can utilize to overturn an old conviction, after a sentence is served, is a motion requesting the court to vacate (or overturn) the conviction. A person needs to bear in mind that a court has the ability to deny this type of application for relief if a judge determines that there appears to be no real basis for the requested relief.
If the court makes an initial decision that the request for relief has at least some merit, a judge will schedule the matter for further proceedings, which will likely include a full blown evidentiary hearing.
In the most basic of terms, a person seeking to have an old conviction overturned by the court must present evidence that demonstrates the interests of justice will only be served if the court vacates that conviction. The most common way to accomplish this is a demonstration by the person seeking relief that he or she actually is completely innocent of the charges. More often than not, DNA is used to make this point.
A common scenario involves a person who was convicted before DNA testing existed (or at least before it was used in court in Ohio), and DNA testing in this day and age reveals that the individual is not, in fact, the perpetrator of the crime for which he or she was convicted.
A less common scenario involves a contention that the police, the prosecuting attorney or, even more rarely, the judge engaged in some sort of misconduct during the underlying criminal proceedings that the defendant's constitutional rights were significantly abrogated. For example, if the police manufactured evidence that resulted in the defendant's conviction, and new evidence has been discovered that reveals this misconduct, a person may be able to seek an overturning of the conviction even after he or she fully served the sentence imposed in the case.
The odds of a person ultimately prevailing in a case to have an old conviction set aside are low. Not only must a person seeking this relief have the evidence necessary to make such a case, but he or she must present the evidence to the court in a proper manner.
Ultimately, in Ohio overturning a conviction in this type of situation rests entirely at the judge's discretion. In other words, a judge is granted a great deal of leeway as to how this type of case should be resolved.
Retaining an attorney to assist a person in pursuing overturning a conviction in a criminal case can be expensive. As has been noted, this type of legal endeavor is complex and potentially quite time consuming.
On the flip side, not obtaining legal representation when a person is serious about obtaining this type of relief is also costly, albeit in a different way. A person really has one shot at making a case regarding why an old conviction should be overturned or vacated. A layperson typically lacks the necessary experience to properly maneuver through the system in order to prevail in obtaining this type of relief. Due to this, pursuing this type of case on one's own can also be extremely costly.
A number of potential resources exist in the state of Ohio that may be able to offer legal assistance to a person interested in seeking to have an old conviction overturned. In addition, even if these organizations are unable to provide actual legal representation, they do tend to maintain informational resources that can prove very helpful to a person who desires to obtain a court order overturning a prior conviction.
Ohio Legal Services exists to provide legal assistance to low income Ohioans. They do provide resources in regards to certain types of criminal cases, and they are an agency a person seeking to overturn an old sentence will want to contact.
The Ohio State Bar Association is also a resource a person seeking this type of relief in the criminal justice system will want to consider accessing. The Bar Association maintains a selection of different informational resources pertaining to the criminal justice system. In addition, the Bar Association maintains a listing of attorneys who practice criminal law in the state. This includes attorneys who are willing to take on a pro bono (no fee charged) case in some instances.
Law schools in Ohio maintain clinical programs through which third year students represent clients under the supervision of licensed attorneys. In some instances, the students do take on cases involving post conviction matters, such as overturning an old conviction after the sentence has been served.
Find more legal articles in our articles database.