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].

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    And jsut why

    By on

    shouldn't the jury not have heard those confessions? If they were related to the charges, then they were relevant evidence.

    And this BS of "presumed innocent after proven guilty" has got to stop.

    After reading

    By on

    .. well skimming, and also I am not a lawyer, but I am a damn tenacious arguer...

    Anyway, my layman's interpretation:

    * Riley was part of a crowd going around looking for the opposing force from a prior night's fisticuffs.

    * One of Riley's party stabbed a man to death.

    * By virtue of the joint criminal venture findings, all are liable to stand for the charge of manslaughter.

    * A non-indicted co-conspirator (or perhaps 2) made incriminating statements under questioning to the police, and which were later admitted as evidence, thought he/they were never called as witnesses.

    * Under the interpretation made precedent by Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 1968 (basically excluding hearsay testimony, I gather), those statements were apparently inadmissible. This is sort of where I got lost in the legalese.

    * The apparently inadmissible statements were what established intent, which is necessary for the joint criminal venture, therefore, in retrial, without those incriminating statements, he was found not guilty.

    * In the current case, the judge found that just because we couldn't prove it this time around, does not mean he was wrongfully convicted, and therefore due no compensation under the Erroneous Convictions Law, G.L. c. 258D, which requires prosecutorial malfeasance, or the exclusion of exculpatory evidence, neither of which occurred here. This was merely a case of improper inclusion of evidence, possibly based on a bad interpretation of the law.

    * Because there was no excluded exculpatory evidence, nothing that showed innocence, there is no grounds for his inclusion in the class of persons defined in G.L. c. 258D.

    I am most definitely not a lawyer.