When an individual is facing a harsh sentence after conviction, they usually look at all possibilities to reverse or change the outcome, depending on the unique circumstances of their case. But the appeals process is lengthy and requires specific deadlines, and for some individuals, this may leave them behind bars for months or years while they await an outcome.
Because an appeal can only focus on procedural errors and the application of the laws by a lower court, it may not be successful in some cases. An appeal is also not possible if the accused entered a guilty plea at sentencing. One solution, however, may be to reverse the process by vacating the conviction, especially if the sentence is unusually harsh or unjust.
Process and grounds for vacating a conviction
To vacate a conviction is to set aside the court’s verdict, which temporarily suspends a conviction. This is an especially important tool that gives more time for the defendant to build a strong defense, although it could also allow the prosecution to file additional charges or start a new proceeding.
Typically, an individual can seek to vacate a conviction due to:
- Ineffective counsel, especially if the attorney or public defender did not properly advise the defendant of a possible plea deal.
- Court bias.
- Jury misconduct.
- Breach of plea agreement.
Although any grounds are possible, ineffective counsel is the most common reason for vacating a conviction. The individual must file a motion within the deadline specified by state law for the process to begin.
Vacating a conviction in Mississippi
In Mississippi, an individual may request to vacate a conviction, set aside or correct the sentencing, or request forensic DNA testing, under certain circumstances, such as that the:
- conviction or sentence violates the individual’s constitutional rights or state laws.
- trial court did not have jurisdiction.
- evidence of material facts was missing at trial, including biological evidence.
- plea was made involuntarily.
The motion for relief is valid within three years:
- of the ruling of a direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Mississippi,
- after the expiration of the time limit for an appeal, or,
- of a conviction, if a guilty plea was entered.
For residents of Gulfport and surrounding areas, knowing which path to take depends on your unique circumstances, and also on having effective legal advocacy to help you fight for your rights.