A lot can happen in a criminal case, even after a conviction. Even if someone is found guilty, they still have constitutional rights. Some of these rights fall under the Fifth Amendment right to due process and are often called "post-conviction relief."
A conviction doesn't mean your case is over. Consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn your options and protect your rights post-conviction.
What the Fifth Amendment Says
"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
What It Means Post-Conviction
United States Library of Congress, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation
In the absence of errors by the sentencing judge,1 or of sentencing jurors considering invalid factors,2 the significance of procedural due process at sentencing is limited.3 In Williams v. New York,4 the Court upheld the imposition of the death penalty, despite a jury's recommendation of mercy, where the judge acted based on information in a presentence report not shown to the defendant or his counsel. The Court viewed as highly undesirable the restriction of judicial discretion in sentencing by requiring adherence to rules of evidence which would exclude highly relevant and informative material. Further, disclosure of such information to the defense could well dry up sources who feared retribution or embarrassment. Thus, hearsay and rumors can be considered in sentencing. In Gardner v. Florida,5 however, the Court limited the application of Williams to capital cases.6
In United States v. Grayson,7 a noncapital case, the Court relied heavily on Williams in holding that a sentencing judge may properly consider his belief that the defendant was untruthful in his trial testimony in deciding to impose a more severe sentence than he would otherwise have imposed. the Court declared that, under the current scheme of individualized indeterminate sentencing, the judge must be free to consider the broadest range of information in assessing the defendant's prospects for rehabilitation; defendant's truthfulness, as assessed by the trial judge from his own observations, is relevant information.8
There are various sentencing proceedings, however, that so implicate substantial rights that additional procedural protections are required.9 Thus, in Specht v. Patterson,10 the Court considered a defendant who had been convicted of taking indecent liberties, which carried a maximum sentence of ten years but was sentenced under a sex offenders statute to an indefinite term of one day to life. The sex offenders law, the Court observed, did not make the commission of the particular offense the basis for sentencing. Instead, by triggering a new hearing to determine whether the convicted person was a public threat, a habitual offender, or mentally ill, the law in effect constituted a new charge that must be accompanied by procedural safeguards. And in Mempa v. Rhay,11 the Court held that, when sentencing is deferred subject to probation and the terms of probation are allegedly violated so that the convicted defendant is returned for sentencing, he must then be represented by counsel, inasmuch as it is a point in the process where substantial rights of the defendant may be affected.
Due process considerations can also come into play in sentencing if the state attempts to withhold relevant information from the jury. For instance, in Simmons v. South Carolina, the Court held that due process requires that if the prosecutor makes an argument for the death penalty based on the future dangerousness of the defendant to society, the jury must then be informed if the only alternative to a death sentence is a life sentence without the possibility of parole.12 But, in Ramdass v. Angelone,13 the Court refused to apply the reasoning of Simmons because the defendant was not technically parole-ineligible at the time of sentencing.
A defendant should not be penalized for exercising a right to appeal. Thus, it is a denial of due process for a judge to sentence a convicted defendant on retrial to a longer sentence than he received after the first trial if the object of the sentence is to punish the defendant for having successfully appealed his first conviction or to discourage similar appeals by others.14 If the judge does impose a longer sentence the second time, he must justify it on the record by showing, for example, the existence of new information meriting a longer sentence.15
Because the possibility of vindictiveness in resentencing is de minimis when it is the jury that sentences, however, the requirement of justifying a more severe sentence upon resentencing is inapplicable to jury sentencing, at least in the absence of a showing that the jury knew of the prior vacated sentence.16 The presumption of vindictiveness is also inapplicable if the first sentence was imposed following a guilty plea. Here the Court reasoned that a trial may well afford the court insights into the nature of the crime and the character of the defendant that were not available following the initial guilty plea.17
Appeals and Other Remedies
An appeal from a judgment of conviction is not a matter of absolute right, independently of constitutional or statutory provisions allowing such appeal. A review by an appellate court of the final judgment in a criminal case, however grave the offense of which the accused is convicted, was not at common law and is not now a necessary element of due process of law. It is wholly within the discretion of the State to allow or not to allow such a review.18 This holding has been reaffirmed,19 although the Court has also held that, when a state does provide appellate review, it may not so condition the privilege as to deny it irrationally to some persons, such as indigents.20
A state is not free, however, to have no corrective process in which defendants may pursue remedies for federal constitutional violations. In Frank v. Mangum,21 the Court asserted that a conviction obtained in a mob-dominated trial was contrary to due process: if the State, supplying no corrective process, carries into execution a judgment of death or imprisonment based upon a verdict thus produced by mob domination, the State deprives the accused of his life or liberty without due process of law. Consequently, the Court has stated numerous times that the absence of some form of corrective process when the convicted defendant alleges a federal constitutional violation contravenes the Fourteenth Amendment,22 and the Court has held that to burden this process, such as by limiting the right to petition for habeas corpus, is to deny the convicted defendant his constitutional rights.23
According to the Court, the mode by which federal constitutional rights are to be vindicated after conviction is for the government concerned to determine:
"Wide discretion must be left to the States for the manner of adjudicating a claim that a conviction is unconstitutional. States are free to devise their own systems of review in criminal cases. A state may decide whether to have direct appeals in such cases, and if so under what circumstances. . . . In respecting the duty laid upon them . . . States have a wide choice of remedies. A State may provide that the protection of rights granted by the Federal Constitution be sought through the writ of habeas corpus or coram nobis. It may use each of these ancient writs in its common law scope, or it may put them to new uses; or it may afford remedy by a simple motion brought either in the court of original conviction or at the place of detention. . . . So long as the rights under the United States Constitution may be pursued, it is for a State and not for this Court to define the mode by which they may be vindicated."24
If a state provides a mode of redress, then a defendant must first exhaust that mode. If he is unsuccessful, or if a state does not provide an adequate mode of redress, then the defendant may petition a federal court for relief through a writ of habeas corpus.25
When appellate or other corrective process is made available, because it is no less a part of the process of law under which a defendant is held in custody, it becomes subject to scrutiny for any alleged unconstitutional deprivation of life or liberty. At first, the Court seemed content to assume that, when a state appellate process formally appeared to be sufficient to correct constitutional errors committed by the trial court, the conclusion by the appellate court that the trial court's sentence of execution should be affirmed was ample assurance that life would not be forfeited without due process of law.26 But, in Moore v. Dempsey,27 while insisting that it was not departing from precedent, the Court directed a federal district court in which petitioners had sought a writ of habeas corpus to make an independent investigation of the facts alleged by the petitioners—mob domination of their trial—notwithstanding that the state appellate court had ruled against the legal sufficiency of these same allegations. Indubitably, Moore marked the abandonment of the Supreme Court's deference, founded upon considerations of comity, to decisions of state appellate tribunals on issues of constitutionality, and the proclamation of its intention no longer to treat as virtually conclusive pronouncements by the latter that proceedings in a trial court were fair, an abandonment soon made even clearer in Brown v. Mississippi28 and now taken for granted.
The Court has held, however, that the Due Process Clause does not provide convicted persons a right to postconviction access to the state's evidence for DNA testing.29 Chief Justice Roberts, in a five-to-four decision, noted that 46 states had enacted statutes dealing specifically with access to DNA evidence, and that the Federal Government had enacted a statute that allows federal prisoners to move for court-ordered DNA testing under specified conditions. Even the states that had not enacted statutes dealing specifically with access to DNA evidence must, under the Due Process Clause, provide adequate postconviction relief procedures. The Court, therefore, saw no reason to constitutionalize the issue.30 It also expressed concern that "[e]stablishing a freestanding right to access DNA evidence for testing would force us to act as policymakers . . . . We would soon have to decide if there is a constitutional obligation to preserve forensic evidence that might later be tested. If so, for how long? Would it be different for different types of evidence? Would the State also have some obligation to gather such evidence in the first place? How much, and when?"31
Probation and Parole
Sometimes convicted defendants are not sentenced to jail but instead are placed on probation subject to incarceration upon violation of the conditions that are imposed. Others who are jailed may subsequently qualify for release on parole before completing their sentence and are subject to reincarceration upon violation of imposed conditions. Because both of these dispositions are statutory privileges granted by the governmental authority,32 it was long assumed that the administrators of the systems did not have to accord procedural due process either in the granting stage or in the revocation stage. Now, both granting and revocation are subject to due process analysis, although the results tend to be disparate. Thus, in Mempa v. Rhay,33 the trial judge had deferred sentencing and placed the convicted defendant on probation; when facts subsequently developed that indicated a violation of the conditions of probation, he was summoned and summarily sentenced to prison. The Court held that he was entitled to counsel at the deferred sentencing hearing.
In Morrissey v. Brewer,34 a unanimous Court held that parole revocations must be accompanied by the usual due process hearing and notice requirements:
"[T]he revocation of parole is not part of a criminal prosecution and thus the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such a proceeding does not apply to parole revocation . . . [But] the liberty of a parolee, although indeterminate, includes many of the core values of unqualified liberty and its termination inflicts a 'grievous loss' on the parolee and often on others. It is hardly useful any longer to try to deal with this problem in terms of whether the parolee's liberty is a 'right' or a 'privilege.' By whatever name, the liberty is valuable and must be seen as within the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. Its termination calls for some orderly process, however informal."35
What process is due, then, turned upon the state's interests. Its principal interest was that, having once convicted a defendant, imprisoned him, and, at some risk, released him for rehabilitation purposes, it should be able to return the individual to imprisonment without the burden of a new adversary criminal trial if in fact he has failed to abide by the conditions of his parole. Yet, the state has no interest in revoking parole without some informal procedural guarantees, inasmuch as such guarantees will not interfere with its reasonable interests.36
Minimal due process, the Court held, requires that at both stages of the revocation process—the arrest of the parolee and the formal revocation—the parolee is entitled to certain rights. Promptly following the arrest of the parolee, there should be an informal hearing to determine whether reasonable grounds exist for revocation of parole. This preliminary hearing should be conducted at or reasonably near the place of the alleged parole violation or arrest and as promptly as convenient after arrest while information is fresh and sources are available and should be conducted by someone not directly involved in the case, though he need not be a judicial officer. The parolee should be given adequate notice that the hearing will take place and what violations are alleged, he should be able to appear and speak in his own behalf and produce other evidence, and he should be allowed to examine those who have given adverse evidence against him unless it is determined that the identity of such informant should not be revealed. Also, the hearing officer should prepare a digest of the hearing and base his decision upon the evidence adduced at the hearing.37
Prior to the final decision on revocation, there should be a more formal revocation hearing at which there would be a final evaluation of any contested relevant facts and consideration whether the facts as determined warrant revocation. The hearing must take place within a reasonable time after the parolee is taken into custody and he must be enabled to controvert the allegations or offer evidence in mitigation.
The procedural details of such hearings are for the states to develop, but the Court specified minimum requirements of due process. They include:
- Written notice of the claimed violations of parole
- Disclosure to the parolee of evidence against him
- Opportunity to be heard in person and to present witnesses and documentary evidence
- The right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearing officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation)
- A 'neutral and detached' hearing body such as a traditional parole board, members of which need not be judicial officers or lawyers
- A written statement by the factfinders as to the evidence relied on and the reasons for revoking parole.38
Ordinarily, the written statement need not indicate that the sentencing court or review board considered alternatives to incarceration,39 but a sentencing court must consider such alternatives if the probation violation consists of the failure of an indigent probationer, through no fault of his own, to pay a fine or restitution.40
The Court has applied a flexible due process standard to the provision of counsel. Counsel is not invariably required in parole or probation revocation proceedings. The state should, however, provide the assistance of counsel where an indigent person may have difficulty in presenting his version of disputed facts without cross-examination of witnesses or presentation of complicated documentary evidence. Presumptively, counsel should be provided where the person requests counsel, based on a timely and colorable claim that he has not committed the alleged violation, or if that issue be uncontested, there are reasons in justification or mitigation that might make revocation inappropriate.41
With respect to the granting of parole, the Court's analysis of the Due Process Clause's meaning in Greenholtz v. Nebraska Penal Inmates42 is much more problematical. The theory was rejected that the mere establishment of the possibility of parole was sufficient to create a liberty interest entitling any prisoner who meets the general standards of eligibility to a due process protected expectation of being dealt with in any particular way. On the other hand, the Court did recognize that a parole statute could create an expectancy of release entitled to some measure of constitutional protection, although a determination would need to be made on a case-by-case basis,43 and the full panoply of due process guarantees are not required.44 Where, however, government by its statutes and regulations creates no obligation of the pardoning authority and thus creates no legitimate expectancy of release, the prisoner may not by showing the favorable exercise of the authority in the great number of cases demonstrate such a legitimate expectancy. The power of the executive to pardon, or grant clemency, being a matter of grace, is rarely subject to judicial review.45
- In Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736, 740–41 (1948) the Court overturned a sentence imposed on an uncounseled defendant by a judge who in reciting the defendant's record from the bench made several errors and facetious comments. "[W]hile disadvantaged by lack of counsel, this prisoner was sentenced on the basis of assumptions concerning his criminal record which were materially untrue. Such a result, whether caused by carelessness or design, is inconsistent with due process of law, and such a conviction cannot stand."
- In Hicks v. Oklahoma, 447 U.S. 343 (1980), the jury had been charged in accordance with a habitual offender statute that if it found the defendant guilty of the offense charged, which would be a third felony conviction, it should assess punishment at 40 years imprisonment. The jury convicted and gave the defendant 40 years. Subsequently, in another case, the habitual offender statute under which Hicks had been sentenced was declared unconstitutional, but Hicks' conviction was affirmed on the basis that his sentence was still within the permissible range open to the jury. The Supreme Court reversed. Hicks was denied due process because he was statutorily entitled to the exercise of the jury's discretion and could have been given a sentence as low as ten years. That the jury might still have given the stiffer sentence was only conjectural. On other due process restrictions on the determination of the applicability of recidivist statutes to convicted defendants, see Chewning v. Cunningham, 368 U.S. 443 (1962); Oyler v. Boles, 368 U.S. 448 (1962); Spencer v. Texas, 385 U.S. 554 (1967); Parke v. Raley, 506 U.S. 20 (1992).
- Due process does not impose any limitation upon the sentence that a legislature may affix to any offense; that function is in the Eighth Amendment. Williams v. Oklahoma, 358 U.S. 576, 586–87 (1959). See also Collins v. Johnston, 237 U.S. 502 (1915). On recidivist statutes, see Graham v. West Virginia, 224 U.S. 616, 623 (1912); Ughbanks v. Armstrong, 208 U.S. 481, 488 (1908), and, under the Eighth Amendment, Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263 (1980).
- 337 U.S. 241 (1949). See also Williams v. Oklahoma, 358 U.S. 576 (1959).
- 430 U.S. 349 (1977).
- In Gardner, the jury had recommended a life sentence upon convicting the defendant of murder, but the trial judge sentenced the defendant to death, relying in part on a confidential presentence report which he did not characterize or make available to defense or prosecution. Justices Stevens, Stewart, and Powell found that because death was significantly different from other punishments and because sentencing procedures were subject to higher due process standards than when Williams was decided, the report must be made part of the record for review so that the factors motivating imposition of the death penalty may be known, and ordinarily must be made available to the defense. 430 U.S. at 357–61. All but one of the other Justices joined the result on various other bases. Justice Brennan without elaboration thought the result was compelled by due process, id. at 364, while Justices White and Blackmun thought the result was necessitated by the Eighth Amendment, id. at 362, 364, as did Justice Marshall in a different manner. Id. at 365. Chief Justice Burger concurred only in the result, id. at 362, and Justice Rehnquist dissented. Id. at 371. See also Lankford v. Idaho, 500 U.S. 110 (1991) (due process denied where judge sentenced defendant to death after judge's and prosecutor's actions misled defendant and counsel into believing that death penalty would not be at issue in sentencing hearing).
- 438 U.S. 41 (1978).
- 438 U.S. at 49–52. See also United States v. Tucker, 404 U.S. 443, 446 (1972); Chaffin v. Stynchcombe, 412 U.S. 17, 32 (1973). Cf. 18 U.S.C. § 3577.
- See, e.g, Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541, 554, 561, 563 (1966), where the Court required that before a juvenile court decided to waive jurisdiction and transfer a juvenile to an adult court it must hold a hearing and permit defense counsel to examine the probation officer's report which formed the basis for the court's decision. Kent was ambiguous whether it was based on statutory interpretation or constitutional analysis. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), however, appears to have constitutionalized the language.
- 386 U.S. 605 (1967).
- 389 U.S. 128 (1967).
- 512 U.S. 154 (1994). See also Lynch v. Arizona, 136 S. Ct. 1818, 1820 (2016) (holding that the possibility of clemency and the potential for future legislative reform does not justify a departure from the rule of Simmons); Kelly v. South Carolina, 534 U.S. 246, 252 (2002) (concluding that a prosecutor need not express intent to rely on future dangerousness; logical inferences may be drawn); Shafer v. South Carolina, 532 U.S. 36 (2001) (amended South Carolina law still runs afoul of Simmons).
- 530 U.S. 156 (2000).
- North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711 (1969). Pearce was held to be nonretroactive in Michigan v. Payne, 412 U.S. 47 (1973). When a state provides a two-tier court system in which one may have an expeditious and somewhat informal trial in an inferior court with an absolute right to trial de novo in a court of general criminal jurisdiction if convicted, the second court is not bound by the rule in Pearce, because the potential for vindictiveness and inclination to deter is not present. Colten v. Kentucky, 407 U.S. 104 (1972). But see Blackledge v. Perry, 417 U.S. 21 (1974), discussed supra.
- An intervening conviction on other charges for acts committed prior to the first sentencing may justify imposition of an increased sentence following a second trial. Wasman v. United States, 468 U.S. 559 (1984).
- Chaffin v. Stynchcombe, 412 U.S. 17 (1973). The Court concluded that the possibility of vindictiveness was so low because normally the jury would not know of the result of the prior trial nor the sentence imposed, nor would it feel either the personal or institutional interests of judges leading to efforts to discourage the seeking of new trials. Justices Stewart, Brennan, and Marshall thought the principle was applicable to jury sentencing and that prophylactic limitations appropriate to the problem should be developed. Id. at 35, 38. Justice Douglas dissented on other grounds. Id. at 35. The Pearce presumption that an increased, judge-imposed second sentence represents vindictiveness also is inapplicable if the second trial came about because the trial judge herself concluded that a retrial was necessary due to prosecutorial misconduct before the jury in the first trial. Texas v. McCullough, 475 U.S. 134 (1986).
- Alabama v. Smith, 490 U.S. 794 (1989).
- McKane v. Durston, 153 U.S. 684, 687 (1894). See also Andrews v. Swartz, 156 U.S. 272, 275 (1895); Murphy v. Massachusetts, 177 U.S. 155, 158 (1900); Reetz v. Michigan, 188 U.S. 505, 508 (1903).
- Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 18 (1956); id. at 21 (Justice Frankfurter concurring), 27 (dissenting opinion); Ross v. Moffitt, 417 U.S. 600 (1974).
- The line of cases begins with Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12 (1956), in which it was deemed to violate both the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses for a state to deny to indigent defendants free transcripts of the trial proceedings, which would enable them adequately to prosecute appeals from convictions.
- 237 U.S. 309, 335 (1915).
- Moore v. Dempsey, 261 U.S. 86, 90, 91 (1923); Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103, 113 (1935); New York ex rel. Whitman v. Wilson, 318 U.S. 688, 690 (1943); Young v. Ragan, 337 U.S. 235, 238–39 (1949).
- Ex parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546 (1941); White v. Ragen, 324 U.S. 760 (1945).
- Carter v. Illinois, 329 U.S. 173, 175–76 (1946).
- In Case v. Nebraska, 381 U.S. 336 (1965) (per curiam), the Court had taken for review a case that raised the issue of whether a state could simply omit any corrective process for hearing and determining claims of federal constitutional violations, but it dismissed the case when the state in the interim enacted provisions for such process. Justices Clark and Brennan each wrote a concurring opinion.
- Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309 (1915).
- 261 U.S. 86 (1923).
- 297 U.S. 278 (1936).
- District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial District v. Osborne, 557 U.S. 52 (2009).
- 557 U.S. at 55.
- 557 U.S. at 74 (citation omitted). Justice Stevens, in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer and in part by Justice Souter, concluded, [T]here is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done in this case. Id. at 103.
- Ughbanks v. Armstrong, 208 U.S. 481 (1908), held that parole is not a constitutional right but instead is a present from the government to the prisoner. In Escoe v. Zerbst, 295 U.S. 490 (1935), the Court's premise was that as a matter of grace the parolee was being granted a privilege and that he should neither expect nor seek due process. Then-Judge Burger in Hyser v. Reed, 318 F.2d 225 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 375 U.S. 957 (1963), reasoned that due process was inapplicable because the parole board's function was to assist the prisoner's rehabilitation and restoration to society and that there was no adversary relationship between the board and the parolee.
- 389 U.S. 128 (1967).
- 408 U.S. 471 (1972).
- 408 U.S. at 480, 482.
- 408 U.S. at 483.
- 408 U.S. at 484–87.
- 408 U.S. at 489.
- Black v. Romano, 471 U.S. 606 (1985).
- Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 672 (1983).
- Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778 (1973).
- 442 U.S. 1 (1979). Justice Powell thought that the creation of a parole system did create a legitimate expectancy of fair procedure protected by due process, but, save in one respect, he agreed with the Court that the procedure followed was adequate. Id. at 18. Justices Marshall, Brennan, and Stevens argued in dissent that the Court's analysis of the liberty interest was faulty and that due process required more than the board provided. Id. at 22.
- Following Greenholtz, the Court held in Board of Pardons v. Allen, 482 U.S. 369 (1987), that a liberty interest was created by a Montana statute providing that a prisoner shall be released upon certain findings by a parole board. Accord Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216 (2011) (per curiam).
- The Court in Greenholtz held that procedures designed to elicit specific facts were inappropriate under the circumstances, and minimizing the risk of error should be the prime consideration. This goal may be achieved by the board's largely informal methods; eschewing formal hearings, notice, and specification of particular evidence in the record. The inmate, in this case, was afforded an opportunity to be heard, and when parole was denied he was informed in what respects he fell short of qualifying. That afforded the process that was due. Accord Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216 (2011) (per curiam).
- Ohio Adult Parole Auth. v. Woodard, 523 U.S. 272 (1998). The mere existence of purely discretionary authority and the frequent exercise of it creates no entitlement. Connecticut Bd. of Pardons v. Dumschat, 452 U.S. 458 (1981); Jago v. Van Curen, 454 U.S. 14 (1981). The former case involved not parole but commutation of a life sentence, commutation being necessary to become eligible for parole. The statute gave the Board total discretion to commute, but in at least 75% of the cases prisoner received a favorable action and virtually all of the prisoners who had their sentences commuted were promptly paroled. In Van Curen, the Court made express what had been implicit in Dumschat; the mutually explicit understandings concept under which some property interests are found protected does not apply to liberty interests. Van Curen is also interesting because there the parole board had granted the petition for parole but within days revoked it before the prisoner was released, upon being told that he had lied at the hearing before the board.