Court: Just because your conviction is overturned doesn't necessarily mean you're innocent
A Chelsea man whose manslaughter conviction was overturned because the jury heard testimony it shouldn't have is not entitled to damages from the state for the time he spent in prison, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today.
Michael Riley was convicted of manslaughter in 1986 after a friend he was with fatally stabbed somebody with whom he'd fought the night before. Riley got a new trial when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that part of the evidence against him was essentially hearsay and, the second time around, he was acquitted.
After the state legislature enacted a law in 2004 allowing for up to $500,000 in damages for people wrongfully imprisoned, Riley sued.
In its ruling today, the appeals court said the law was meant to repay people for whom evidence or testimony that would bolster their pleas of innocence was withheld, whether deliberately or not. But in Riley's case, the court ruled, the testimony would have and did bolster the prosecution's argument he was guilty.
Riley's first jury had too much information, including the confessions that they should not have heard. The Legislature clearly did not intend to provide compensation merely because evidence of a claimant's guilt should have been suppressed or excluded. ...
Nothing in the reversal of Riley's convictions [based on the excluded testimony] tends to show that Riley was innocent. The court's ruling only made it more difficult for the Commonwealth to prove that he did commit the crimes by excluding additional inadmissible evidence of guilt. Therefore, Riley is not eligible to pursue a claim [under the state law].