Freeing up Money - Hundreds of People may now be entitled to funds for wrongful conviction

It doesn't happen often that the Courts make it easier for someone to collect money. The Supreme Court did just that recently in a decision styled In Re Colton Lester.

The case involved an individual who had been prosecuted and convicted for online solicitation of a minor. He was convicted under a Statute that had been declared unconstitutional by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. When he discovered that (which goes to show you that it really can make a difference which lawyer you hire) he filed an application for writ of habeas corpus, which was granted. The Court of Criminal Appeals set aside his conviction, but when they did so they found he was not "actually innocent" even though he had been convicted for something that wasn't an offense.

In case you don't know, Courts have a way of defining things that appear logical to lawyers, but make absolutely no sense to anyone else. The phrase "actual innocence" has a special meaning; the short version is that you are able to prove you are innocent based on newly available evidence. The key phrase is "newly available." In Lester's case, the fact that the statute was unconstitutional was not "newly available" since the Court decided that before he plead guilty and was convicted. Therefore, he could not establish he was actually innocent, since he should have known at the time he was actually innocent.

The Supreme Court used a more common sense definition. They characterized the Court of Criminal Appeal's definition as "elevating form over substance." Their definition focused on whether he was actually innocent at the time and since he was, he was entitled to compensation.

The astute reader may wonder why the Texas Supreme Court is deciding this instead of the Court of Criminal Appeals. The answer is that the claim for compensation is a civil matter, which that court has jurisdiction - thankfully.

I've been waiting for the chance to argue this same thing and I'm a little sad I don't get the chance. That's not the point though. The point is that now there are hundreds of people who have most likely been told they don't qualify for compensation who now do.

Just like the unconstitutionality of the online solicitation statute, this is something that most people are not going to be aware - unless someone tells them. My guess is they aren't reading the advance sheets and so far this decision hasn't generated much press. So, I'm hoping that now you know you can help out. If you know someone who may qualify please let them know. Heck, if you know someone who knows someone, let them know. They may have money sitting out there waiting for them.

If you want more information on this, please get with us. You can use the contact form on this page or call 254-296-0020. 

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.
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