Many individuals who have been exonerated of wrongful convictions recount the weight that was lifted when their cases were overturned and the state dropped the charges against them. Sadly, not all wrongfully convicted people released from prison enjoy that same sense of relief. As a recent story by ProPublica reveals, in too many wrongful conviction cases, innocent people are pressured by prosecutors into taking plea deals in exchange for their freedom, when, in reality, solid evidence demonstrates that full exonerations are in order.
In 1985, George Seward was convicted of a murder in Baltimore County, despite there being no physical evidence linking him to the crime and his having a solid alibi that was confirmed by his boss. Seward maintained his innocence, and after more than three decades in prison, he was finally released. But his freedom came at a cost.
Rather than dropping the charges against Seward, prosecutors decided to retry him even though a judge granted him a writ of innocence based on employment records that “thoroughly” exculpated Seward, reports ProPublica. Rather than risk additional time in prison awaiting trial, Seward agreed to take an Alford Plea offered by the prosecution, which allowed him to maintain his innocence while not contesting the prosecution and the conviction. Ultimately, he cannot legally clear his name or record.
Seward’s case is just one example where “[p]ersuasive innocence claims were met with refusals by the state’s attorney’s office to reexamine the cases, sometimes despite—or perhaps because of—discoveries of official misconduct,” writes ProPublica. According to its report, ProPublica revealed that over the past 20 years, at least eight men in Baltimore County and City who had convincing claims of evidence were not exonerated, but rather offered plea deals.
Read more from ProPublica on how wrongly convicted people are forced into plea deals despite overwhelming evidence of innocence here. Read the tragic result that Innocence Project client Chris Conover suffered from one of these so-called “plea deals” here.