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What It Really Means When A Court Vacates A Criminal Conviction
History - Science
Although criminal convictions are typically thought of as permanent in legal circles, it is possible to have certain criminal convictions overturned or vacated under circumstances that sometimes vary from state to state. That's true regardless of what the defendant's initial plea may have been and regardless of the jury's verdict in the case.
One high-profile example of a vacated conviction came in 2019, when ex-NFL player Aaron Hernandez, who died by suicide while in prison, had his murder conviction overturned per Massachusetts state law. State law at that time stated should a defendant die while the appeals process is underway, all criminal convictions would be vacated.
While circumstances that justify a vacated criminal conviction vary, evidence of juror misconduct in the court proceedings, such as failure to disclose outside influence or bias, is enough in most jurisdictions. Other examples include a breached plea agreement, evidence of bias in the court itself, and errors on the part of the defense on behalf of their client.
"Prosecutorial misconduct and police misconduct are the most common contributing factors ... And within that, the concealing of evidence," said registry director Simon Cole. It's important to note that in some states, the conviction won’t be completely expunged from an individual's record, but if successful, their record will instead indicate that the verdict was later vacated.
Most jurisdictions consider certain types of convictions ineligible to be vacated; for both misdemeanor and felony convictions in Washington State, for example, certain violent sexual offenses and DUI are not able to be overturned. To be eligible, the defendant must not have already completed their sentence or paid fines in full, and no additional court case should be pending, among other stipulations.