Innocent and on Death Row: Federal Judge Overturns James Dennis Murder Conviction

Two facts remain true: innocent men go to prison and sometimes the state’s executes them for crimes uncommitted. James Dennis was nearly the latest to enter the execution chamber in Pennsylvania until federal judge Anita B. Brody overturned his decades-old murder conviction citing “a gross miscarriage of justice.” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed Dennis’ death warrant in 2011 after the man spent nearly 20 years on death row. Dennis’ story, and thousands of others like him across the country, highlights a sobering issue plaguing our criminal justice system. Sometimes, authorities have no real interest in guilt or innocence — all they want is a conviction.

Cell Block 2 - Innocent and on Death Row: Federal Judge Overturns James Dennis Murder Conviction

Defense Attorneys Doing the Bare Minimum

Every defendant has the right to a vigorous defense, and they need it. The prosecution will do everything they can to obtain a conviction, even to the point of trying an innocent man as was reportedly the case with James Dennis. Judge Brody reportedly blasted the man’s defense lawyer in rendering her ruling saying he did the “bare minimum” in defending him. That gives trial attorneys as a whole a bad name. These people are quite literally in the fight of their lives. The last thing they need is legal advice from someone who is only looking to collect a retainer and move onto a more interesting or high profile case. That does the system no good, and it nearly cost Mr. Dennis his life.

The Need for the Innocence Project

The rate at which our justice system convicts innocence men for crimes they did not commit is at epidemic levels. Men and women across the country are receiving prison sentences of 20+ years, languishing in small cells and losing out on seeing their children grow up, all because authorities don’t wish to perform their due diligence in collecting evidence and testing its authenticity. In Dennis’ case, he even had an alibi for the time of the murder he was accused of committing, but his attorney reportedly failed to follow-up on leads or investigate witnesses. The outright laziness is why organizations like The Innocence Project are so important. We need people dedicated to assisting those who have been wrongfully imprisoned in filing their appeals and working to uncover the evidence that proves their innocence.

A Conviction can be Difficult to Overturn

Before a conviction occurs, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution. The defendant has the presumption of innocence. In other words, it’s the task of the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That burden shifts to the convicted when the jury renders a guilty verdict. The (presumably) incarcerated defendant must prove a negative from behind bars with no money to afford a lawyer outside of a public defender. That Mr. Dennis was able to attract the attention of Arnold and Porter, a prominent Washington D.C. firm, to represent him is a feat not every defendant pulls off.

If you, or someone in your family, is facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you need relentless defense from experienced trial attorneys. With more than 25 years of experience, our Bucks County criminal lawyers will fight for you without end. Call us today for your consultation. Day or night. Jailhouse visits are available 24 hours a day in an emergency situation.

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