Innocent people are convicted of crimes far too often. Ed Easley is one of those people.
In 1993, Easley was convicted of molesting a 7-year-old girl. He served eight years in prison, five more on probation, and was required to register as a sex offender for life. Years after his conviction, the alleged victim came forward and confessed to lying about Easley’s actions to protect a family member who actually committed the crime. However, the courts would not allow Easley the opportunity to legally prove his innocence.
The Writ of Habeas Corpus
Why was Easley denied this seemingly justifiable chance to clear his name? The answer lied in a procedural issue that courts do not have the power to change. By the time the victim came forward with the truth, Easley was no longer in custody, and therefore had no right to seek a writ of habeas corpus.
When a person is held against his or her will in custody in jail, prison, or a mental health institution, he or she generally has a right to file a writ of habeas corpus. The writ is a court order to “produce the body,” meaning that the authority holding the individual must bring the person before the court and show a valid reason for keeping that person detained.
However, once a person is no longer in custody, a writ of habeas corpus will not help the person who wishes to be exonerated. Easley spent 12 years appealing to various courts, including the California Supreme Court. Yet, time and again, his appeal was denied. The only path available to him was to appeal to the governor of California for clemency.
A New Path to Innocence
In one of Easley’s appeals, a judge wrote that, based on the victim’s renunciation of his accusation, Easley would likely not have been convicted on the crime. Yet, the courts’ hands were tied because courts can only interpret the law that exists and not change or add to those laws. However, California lawmakers passed two laws in 2017 to help people like Easley gain access to the court after being released from custody.
Assembly Bill 813 added Penal Code Section 1473.7, which allows a person who is no longer in custody to make a motion to the court to vacate his or her conviction or sentence for either of the following reasons:
- The conviction or sentence is legally invalid due to a prejudicial error damaging the individual’s ability to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the actual or potential adverse immigration consequences of a guilty or no contest plea; or
- Newly discovered evidence of actual innocence exists that requires vacation of the conviction or sentence as a matter of law or in the interest of justice
Easley was convicted after pleading not guilty, which meant he was required to show newly discovered evidence of “actual innocence.” Under previous law, that meant he was required to have evidence that pointed “unerringly to innocence and completely undermine[d] the prosecution’s case.”
However, one of the laws California passed in 2017 – Senate Bill 1134 – changed the standard under existing Penal Code Section 1473. Under the change, new evidence need only to have been “more likely than not” to change the outcome of the trial.
Easley’s attorneys were able to use the judge’s written opinion about the victim’s admission to show that had the facts been known at the time of his trial, it was more likely than not that he would have been found not guilty of the crime.
As a result of these changes in the law, Easley’s conviction was thrown out. He no longer has to register as a sex offender, which means that he no longer has to disclose the conviction or his previous status as a sex offender when he applies for housing or a job.
Why You Should Never Give Up on Your Case
If you or someone you love was wrongfully convicted of a crime, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who may be able to help you fight the conviction and clear your name.
At Wallin & Klarich, our criminal defense law firm has over 35 years of experience successfully helping clients find relief after a conviction. We will use all of our legal knowledge, skill, and dedication to help you find the best resolution possible in your case.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.
Contact our offices today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.