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What Does It Mean To Have A Conviction Vacated?

If you have followed true crime podcasts for a while, you might be familiar with the case of Adnan Sayed. This month, after revisiting his case following the increased interest created by the podcast Serial, the judge overseeing the case has moved to have the conviction vacated. This is something that, while uncommon, is not unheard of. But what does it actually mean to have a conviction vacated? A-EZ Bail Bonds has the answers.

No, Having A Conviction Vacated Doesn’t Mean “Acquitted”

When a conviction is vacated, the initial verdict is simply set aside. Adnan Sayed was released from prison and allowed to rejoin his family, but has not been officially ruled as “innocent.” Essentially, the state has ruled that while the evidence wasn’t strong enough to warrant Sayed’s official conviction, there also weren’t necessarily grounds to acquit him either. Defendants who have their conviction vacated are released from custody under certain conditions, such as a plea bargain being breached, proof of ineffective counsel, court bias, or another similar factor that might have impacted the outcome of the original trial. 

Effectively, vacating a conviction is a legal way to have the first trial and subsequent conviction “annulled”- legally speaking, it would be as if they never happened. However, the defendant might still remain a suspect or a person of interest in the specific case.

Why Would A Conviction Be Vacated?

To have a conviction vacated, there must be substantial evidence that the original conviction was mishandled in some way. In Adnan Sayed’s case, the prosecutor challenged the bulk of the state’s case against him, questioning things like cellular technologies at the time of the murder, the reliability of the star witness, and other key details that should have been further addressed back in 1999. When one is seeking to vacate a verdict, certain conditions must be met before the vacation can move forward. The rules regarding getting a conviction vacated are specific to each state, so many details regarding the how and why of a conviction vacation would depend on the location.

Can The Original Conviction Be Revisited?

The short answer is, yes. Unless the sentence is completely overturned in favor of declaring the defendant innocent, the charges remain viable for a retrial in the event that new evidence comes to light. Vacating a conviction is different from acquittal, mainly in the fact that the “double jeopardy” clause in the 5th amendment preventing someone from being prosecuted for the same crime twice doesn’t apply to a conviction vacation. If new evidence arises that incriminates the original defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, then the case can be considered eligible for a retrial. In the case of Adnan Sayed, the mismanagement of the original evidence and the lack of reliability between all the witness statements combined with the amount of time passed since the initial crime for which Sayed was imprisoned likely means that no one will ever go to trial over that case again.

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