Prove Your Innocence in US

Photo of a man in handcuffs

How to prove your innocence

Before the accused attempts to prove their innocence, they need to determine whether, under US law, they have a case for arguing their innocence. Beyond the direct charge, there may be other laws that the defendant has violated. Depending upon the accused’s risk of conviction, the defense will adapt their approach towards arguing the accused’s innocence.

Photo of a man in handcuffs

Legal terms will be referenced in this article, including the term attorney, which refers to the representative for the individual who stands accused of a crime. Additionally, the term defendant will be used to refer to the individual that stands accused of a crime.

The main laws that will be addressed are The Constitution of the United States and The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both of these are relevant when an attorney is proving the accused’s innocence in a US court. Under The Constitution of the United States, Habeas Corpus, which means ‘that you have the body,’ is a law that will be discussed as it is fundamental to providing liberty to the innocent.

For different ways of proving your innocence in a US court, three main topics will be covered: Protecting Innocence with Habeas Corpus, Providing Evidence, and Presumption of Innocence.

Protecting Innocence with Habeas Corpus 

Habeas Corpus is a law that allows the defendants who have been prosecuted and detained to receive the right to a fair trial. The law has been in place since 1679 and applies to those who are detained in prison.

Protected under The Constitution of the United States, Habeas Corpus means that those who have been wrongly accused or have had false allegations made against them are presented with the opportunity to defend themselves and not be subjected to false imprisonment.

Applying for Habeas Corpus

In order to increase the chances for release, an application for Habeas Corpus should be made when the defendant is imprisoned, and it can take up to 60 days to gauge a response from the courts. This time frame provides both the attorney and the defendant to prepare for court and to prove the defendant’s innocence.

The Federal Criminal Process

The federal criminal process consists of eight stages. The second stage, charging, and the third stage, arraignment, are the most relevant stages to utilize Habeas Corpus as both of these stages allow the defendant to provide an alibi and evidence to prove innocence.

The Second Stage: Charging

The second stage, charging, provides both the attorney and the defendant time to prepare their case evidence and seek key witnesses who can support the plea for not guilty. The case will be presented to a jury, so this is an opportune instance where real facts can go in the defendant’s favor. It is important for strong evidence to be provided at this stage as it will result in a decision being made about whether the defendant should be charged.

The Third Stage: Arraignment

The third stage, arraignment, provides a platform for the defendant to share their good reputation, how they have been an asset to society, and, if relevant, any circumstances that contributed to them being at the crime scene. Depending upon the case, the contexts will vary, however.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

For different ways to prove your innocence in a US court, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is essential legislation supporting the defendant to apply for Habeas Corpus irrespective of race, background, or any protected characteristics.

Photo of United States President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act.
United States President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Additionally, by the attorney and the defendant familiarizing themselves with The Civil Rights Act of 1964, both ‘Freedom to have a fair court trial’ and ‘Freedom of speech‘ will ensure that the defendant can confidently and clearly put their case forward to prove their innocence.

Protection From Bias

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 will also protect the defendant from any bias from the jury. Once the defendant’s case and evidence have been put forward, the jury will not make any decisions stemming from prejudice or discrimination. For members of the jury who are unable to reach a conclusion about the defendant’s state of innocence they may be deterred by pitfalls in the case or features of the defendant that they find unrelatable.

Providing Evidence

Each case begins with presuming that the defendant is innocent. Therefore, if the case reaches trial, then it is the attorney’s responsibility to provide a collection of evidence to support the defendant’s alibi and to use different ways to prove your innocence in a US court.

Depending on the crime, different pieces of evidence will support the defendant’s case more strongly. However, anything that can prove innocence and show that the defendant was either in another location, with other people, or at work, then this will all work as a strong alibi.

Witness Statement

A witness statement is one of the strongest types of evidence during a trial. The reason for this is that another reputable person is able to provide concrete evidence of either being with the defendant during the time and day of the crime. The witness statement will not only develop trust between the defendant and the jury, but it will then prove to be challenging for the judge to dispute any further evidence that the defendant and their attorney provide.

Three Types of Witness Statements

There are four types of witnesses for different ways to prove your innocence in a US court. These consist of a lay witness, an expert witness, a character witness, and a secondary witness. Before trial, the attorney and the witness need to prepare the witness’s statement so that it is cohesive with the overall statements for evidence.

Lay Witness

A lay witness is crucial to proving the defendant’s innocence. They are someone who was either at the scene of the crime and saw the events firsthand or in proximity to the crime and witnessed it.

Unless a lay witness voluntarily comes forward to provide evidence, evidence may need to be obtained from CCTV footage to identify who was at the crime scene. Once a lay witness has been identified, this could lead to further evidence proving the defendant’s innocence that the lay witness is in possession of.

Expert Witness

An expert witness is both independent and impartial in the US court of law, and they are predominantly beneficial for resolving disputes. It is recommended that a legal representative liaises with the expert witness. The expert witness has expertize in a specialist field, or they have acquired knowledge beyond that of a novice. Opinion evidence can support a defendant’s case along with factual-based evidence.

In order to resolve a dispute, expert witnesses are particularly useful, and they can provide an Expert Witness Statement that can be shown to the opposite side of the court.

Character Witness

Character witnesses are used mainly in criminal cases, and it is not common for them to have witnessed the crime. The character witness knows the defendant on either a personal or a professional level, and they are either people such as a family member, a friend, or a neighbor. They can also be a member of a church, a doctor, or a teacher.

The character witness should have a strong track record, they should not have a criminal record, and the longer the period of time that they have known the defendant, the more that this will solidify the defendant’s case and proof of innocence.

Whatever evidence the character witness can provide further backs up the evidence that the defendant has put forward. If the character witness does not want to stand up in court, then they provide written evidence, and during the trial, this would be read out in court.

Evidence From Electronic Devices

There are numerous ways that evidence can be amalgamated from electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. If the defendant used their mobile phone to take photographs or videos on the day that the crime took place, the date and time recorded in the information of this data would prove the defendant’s innocence.

Image of electronic data
There are a number of ways in which evidence can be gathered from electronic devices.

Text messages can prove plans to go elsewhere, call logs can show other people that the defendant was in contact with, and correspondence on social media can also reveal conversations that were carried out at certain times and locations.

Additionally, if false allegations have been made towards the defendant, then their evidence will convey their honesty. Evidence from the lay witness will also reflect that the defendant was not present at the scene of the crime.

GPS Data

A range of different apps collate GPS data. Web browsers such as Safari and commonly used apps such as Google Maps store information about the time and location of when you used your app, and this is ideal to further support the defendant’s case in court and prove their innocence. This type of evidence is not difficult to obtain either.

Other apps that might not necessarily be expected, such as Groupon, Uber, and ShopSavvy, also record an individual’s data about their time and location. Simplistic evidence can often be the strongest, and whilst the defendant was carrying out their normal routine and browsing on their phone, they could have also been simultaneously gaining an alibi.

Surveillance Camera Footage 

Another type of firm evidence is surveillance camera footage. This cannot be disputed as the clarity of the recording will reveal another suspect that does not match the description of the defendant or the allegations made against them. Initially, an attorney should seek out any surveillance camera footage from the crime scene, footage within proximity to the location of the crime, or footage in nearby areas. Any footage that can capture evidence of another suspect on more than one occasion could prove beneficial in preventing the case from going to trial.

Footage from surveillance cameras is a direct link to sourcing witnesses. Under the fifth amendment of the US Constitution, bar some instances, witnesses cannot be forced to testify. Therefore, in addition to camera footage, it is wise for an attorney to obtain a variety of different sources of evidence so that the defense cannot be weakened.

Bank Records

Bank statements are key evidence to prove innocence. A bank statement can state that the defendant was out shopping or visiting an attraction in a different location away from the crime scene. The bank statement can then lead to further evidence being retrieved from CCTV footage, smartphones, other GPS trackers, and lay witnesses.

Bank records may uphold their good and trustworthy character to prove a defendant’s innocence. If the defendant has sustained bill payments or made ongoing repayments for loans, this will go well in the defendant’s favor and reflect their character.

DNA evidence

During stage one of The Federal Criminal Process, the investigation, a range of over five government agencies can be used to obtain evidence. Depending on the crime, various types of physical evidence will be brought forward, and if the defendant’s DNA is not present, this calls for a request for the defendant to be exonerated from the allegations and for the case not to be taken any further.

If DNA is found on tangible evidence, it is the attorney’s responsibility to prove why the DNA is there and to further prove the defendant’s innocence. Prior to the crime, if the defendant knew the victim or had visited the location where the crime took place, it is likely that their DNA would be present. The attorney will need to accumulate other evidence such as phone records, text messages, bank records, surveillance records, and witness statements to explain and justify why the DNA was found.

Presumption of Innocence

Allegations

Once the allegation has been made, under the US state, it is a legal right for the defendant to be presumed innocent. Whilst the first stages of the investigation go ahead, this legal right needs to be maintained and kept at the forefront of the agencies’ minds.

Once the defendant has been arrested, they may either get sent to prison on remand or released on bail. Whilst they are in prison, the investigation procedures will be carried out, and all procedures should be approached from the stance that the defendant is not guilty, was not present at the scene of the crime, and had no involvement in the crime.

Right to a Fair Trial

With the opportunity to apply for Habeas Corpus, this is one of the first steps that leads to the presumption of innocence. Habeas Corpus re-emphasizes the defendant’s right to liberty, a fair trial, and freedom of speech.

Under the sixth amendment of the US Constitution, this confirms the safety and security of the defendant and how all steps that are taken by the government, government agencies, the attorney, and witnesses means that no harm will come to the defendant, they will receive regular updates about their case, if they choose to be informed, and all forms are processed in a timely manner.

Released on Bail

For the defendants that are released on bail, their privacy or daily routine is not interfered with on any grounds. They have every right to access meetings and have any communication with their attorney regarding the process of their case.

Communication with the Attorney 

As the defendant is presumed innocent, they will be offered the choice between video calls, face-to-face meetings, or both with their attorney. The way the defendant chooses to communicate can be altered depending upon the wishes of the defendant. Any information that will help ease concern for the defendant must be provided to them, and again, there should be preferences for how this is delivered to the defendant.

Photo of an Attorney at work
A defendant must be allowed to communicate freely with their attorney.

Facilities

Based on the fact that the defendant is presumed innocent, whether in custody, on remand, or on bail, all measures are put in place to ensure their comfort. All of the facilities they require for their basic needs are private, accessible, and sanitized daily. The defendant has access to a telephone and the internet so that they can choose how they contact their attorney and friends and family.

Within the facility where the defendant is held, there should also be a selection of options available for them to choose from to maintain high levels of health and fitness. Any medical attention they require should be tended to. However, no medical care can be imposed. If the defendant seeks further information or support regarding their well-being, this can also be provided.

The defendant can access outside areas that have a pleasant design space to relax and enjoy the weather. The outdoor area spans across acres. There is also outdoor furniture, so if they choose to eat outside or have some more personal space, this is catered for.

Both indoor and outdoor facilities provide a pleasant and calm environment for the defendant to be visited by their friends and family regularly. Friends and family can also receive drinks and food and have access to all required facilities.

Dietary Requirements

Dietary requirements are taken into consideration, and there is plenty of choice on the menu. There is an array of drinks for the defendant to choose from and no restrictions upon when they can eat or drink. The menu is regularly updated, and the option for takeaway is provided twice a week.

Employment and Education

Measures are also taken to ensure that the defendant’s employment or education is not impacted. If the defendant needs to maintain contact with an employer, carry out any work duties, or complete any educational material, then all steps are made to ensure that this happens. If the defendant needs resources, then the facility will provide these promptly, and any routine or activities that the defendant was carrying out prior to being at the facility will be continued.

Finances

Defendants have access to their finances, and these are not interfered with or stopped. The defendant needs to take any steps to secure their finances while they are in the facility are not stopped or interfered with. Once the defendant has been updated, charges have been dropped, and their innocence has been proven prior to trial, they receive an immediate option to complete the process for financial compensation.

Conclusion

Habeas Corpus is one of the strongest forms of legal protection when protecting innocence. Habeas Corpus ensures that from the moment the defendant is accused, they have the protection, safety, and security of both the law and the state behind them. The Federal Criminal Process, particularly the second stage, charging, and the third stage, arraignment, are the strongest moments to utilize Habeas Corpus and prove innocence. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also ensures that nobody is exempt from Habeas Corpus and that prior to and during the trial, everyone receives fair and equal treatment. This law means that decisions cannot be made by the jury or the judge on an unfair or discriminatory basis.

Evidence is also a large part of different ways to prove your innocence in a US court. The defendant’s attorney can gather evidence from a variety of sources that include witness statements, evidence from electronic devices, GPS data, surveillance camera footage, and DNA evidence.

Both independently and collectively, the evidence will work to create an alibi, prove the defendant’s innocence and make the charges be dropped prior to trial. The sooner the most reliable sources of evidence are obtained, the faster the defendant can be proven to be innocent. 

The evidence that has been mentioned is the main source of evidence. However, there are other sources of evidence that can be utilized too to help prove innocence. 

Furthermore, ongoing work and policy reforms work to improve unlawful convictions, and projects such as The Innocence Project work to inform the public and instill confidence and security.

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