Far too often prosecutors use coercive plea bargaining to get a suspect to plead out, even if they are innocent. Our current Justice System makes it practically impossible to get a conviction scrubbed from one’s record, even after innocence has been clearly established.
It’s not just about being cleared of a crime that you didn’t commit. Those individuals carry scars from their time in jail, even after they have been set free. Convictions remain on federal databases and hinder new beginnings. Even with exoneration, these people are still haunted by the injustice. They have a hard time finding housing and employment because of the felony conviction on their records.
The Innocence Project has several examples. For instance, Vincent Moto, who served nearly nine years in prison for a rape and robbery DNA testing proved he didn’t commit, was recently denied his petition to have his record expunged. Moto was exonerated in 1996.
In another case, Audrey Edmunds, who spent more than a decade in prison for the shaking death of an infant girl before new medical evidence prompted her conviction to be overturned, continues to struggle with the mark on her criminal record, though she was exonerated five years ago.
Finally, Faye Jacobs was wrongly convicted of murder as a juvenile and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2014 her appeal for help caught the attention of the Midwest Innocence Project, which took up her case and gathered new evidence that undermined the conviction. Before the MIP could present it’s findings, the Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life without parole was unconstitutional. Arkansas was forced to reconsider Jacobs’ sentence and offered her immediate release with credit for the 26 years she’d already served.
She happily took the deal, but as a former inmate who officially had completed her sentence, she surrendered her legal standing to go back to court while incarcerated and prove her innocence. Jacobs now sees a role for herself as an advocate. She urges lawmakers to reform laws to allow those who were wrongly placed behind bars to prove their innocence outside of jail.