When police officers and prosecutors claim to have irrefutable evidence connecting someone to criminal activity, defendants often panic. Quite a few individuals who assert their innocence choose to plead guilty to pending criminal charges because they believe that the evidence the state has will inevitably lead to a conviction.
Others believe they can defend themselves, only to have the jury fall for laughable pseudoscience that seems to implicate someone in criminal activity. Some people claim for years that their trial was unfair, and only after some time does forensic science appear to support their claims.
Can those convicted of criminal offenses based on since-debunked evidence prove their innocence?
Changes in science can lead to changes in legal standing
There have absolutely been cases where, after the discovery of new evidence years later, the courts have exonerated individuals previously convicted of criminal defenses. Of course, the appeals courts generally do not hear new evidence, but they could hear claims that the lower courts erred in some key way. Allowing the presentation of fraudulent evidence could be one such error. Those convicted based on evidence that has since proven to be inaccurate or misunderstood may potentially be in a position to prove their actual innocence. The best approach will certainly depend on the circumstances. For those long since convicted and serving a sentence, seeking a pardon might be the most expedient option.
Many different kinds of so-called scientific evidence later turn out to be highly questionable. For example, 911-call analysis has led to some very questionable court outcomes and has very little evidence supporting its use in criminal cases. Similarly, blood spatter analysis and even the use of lie detection equipment have fallen out of popular use in criminal proceedings because of inaccuracies or a lack of evidence validating the accuracy of such systems.
Those convicted of a crime that they did not commit are often eager to prove their innocence or to have a new day in court. Tracking changes in medical and forensic science could help people recognize when an opportunity to prove their innocence might soon arise.