Will A Lawyer Take Your Wrongful Conviction Case For Free?
If you’ve been wrongfully convicted of a crime, you’re probably spending a lot of time thinking about what to do next. Maybe you want to appeal. Maybe you want to file a motion based on newly discovered evidence. Or maybe you want to sue the people who put you behind bars. To do any of these, you probably want a lawyer—a good lawyer. But will a lawyer take your wrongful conviction case for free? It depends.
Do you get a court-appointed lawyer for your appeal?
Yes. No matter whether you are in federal court or state court, you have the right to a lawyer for your first appeal. In federal court, this means you have the right to lawyer to appeal to a U.S. Court of Appeals for whatever circuit you are in. In state court, this means you have the right to a lawyer to appeal to the state’s first-level appellate court.
If you cannot afford an attorney for your appeal, a court will appoint one for you. Usually, it is the judge who presided over your trial and sentencing hearing that appoints one. These attorneys come from lists kept by the court. These lists include lawyers from public defender and other state offices. But they also include private attorneys who accept court-appointed cases, too.
Court-appointed attorneys can obviously help for an appeal. But their assistance has limits. Most of the time, these lawyers will only help you for that appeal. They do not get paid to help you with other matters, even if those matters are related to your conviction.
This can leave you needing another lawyer if you have separate legal matters. These separate matters could be anything from your treatment in prison to lawsuits against the prosecutor and police for your wrongful conviction. If you want to file a wrongful conviction lawsuit, there are free resources. But finding them isn’t easy.
Will you get a lawyer for your wrongful conviction case?
Maybe. In general, you will have to pay a lawyer to file a wrongful conviction lawsuit. This is true even if you qualified for a court-appointed attorney in your criminal case. And it’s also true even if you are in prison (and, as a result, can’t work to afford one). For many people, the cost of a lawyer is what keeps them from filing a wrongful conviction lawsuit.
But there are organizations out there that provide feel wrongful conviction help. The organization with the most name recognition for wrongful convictions is the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law. Its focus is exonerating wrongfully convicted people with DNA testing.
But the Innocence Project is not the only organization working to help the wrongfully convicted. Organizations like the ACLU, FAMM, Interrogating Justice and more help people, too. There are also attorneys who have devoted their careers to this work. You may have heard of Kathleen T. Zellner, the attorney who is representing Steven Avery from Netflix’s Making a Murderer in his wrongful conviction case. Many law schools have programs that specialize in this work, too.
If you’ve been wrongfully convicted, you might feel like you’re running out of options. This feeling can be overwhelming if you don’t have the resources it takes to prove your innocence. But there are organizations out there to help you for free if you cannot afford a lawyer for your wrongful conviction case.