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Understanding the Aaron Hernandez Criminal Appeal
A man who was a star on a Super Bowl winning team, to one who was sitting in a prison cell not knowing when or if he would get to see freedom again. Aaron Hernandez had been given a life sentence with no chance of parole for the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player. Hernandez was also charged with the murder of two other people, which he was not guilty of. Hernandez had appealed the original murder conviction, with some thinking that he may have a good chance to overturn his conviction because he was guilty was found mostly on circumstantial evidence, and an unpredictable jury was of no help. But before Aaron Hernandez ever made it to the appeals court he did something that no one expected, he took his own life. After everyone experienced shock, the main question now is what happens to Hernandez’s appeal?
In a few states, seven to exact, Massachusetts, where Aaron Hernandez is charged, is one of them, there is an old common law doctrine that still applies, it is known as abatement ab initio. Abatement ab initio is Latin for “from the beginning.” The doctrine would essentially wipe away all of the crimes and criminal proceedings that one has not been able to appeal before their death. the doctrine of abatement holds that when a criminal defendant dies during the pendency of his direct appeal, the entire criminal proceeding is extinguished ab initio so that in the eyes of the law, it is as if he had never been indicted or convicted. See United States v. Moehlenkamp, 557 F.2d 126, 127–28 (7th Cir.1977). This judge-made rule is usually explained in terms of fairness or lack of finality or both. This takes away the conviction in question and gives the person a clean slate and are no longer guilty in the eyes of the law. There are two different ways people usually feel about this old doctrine, that it is right, or that it is wrong. The argument for it being right is that one is innocent until proven guilty. The argument for it being wrong is that it is unfair to the victim and their families. However, it should be noted that the Judge must approve of this for it to take full effect, which he has not done so yet.
It is of standard American knowledge that “we are innocent until proven guilty.” This is one of the rights that set us apart from some of the other legal systems in the world and which help modernize or criminal justice system before a lot of others. A person who disagrees with this movement by the defense might argue that Aaron Hernandez was proven guilty because he was already convicted of the original murder. However, the entire criminal process is not over until the defendant has used all of their appeals. With Volpendesto’s death proceeding his appeal to several accounts of racketeering and fraud he would not have concluded his criminal proceedings. U.S. v. Volpendesto, 746 F.3d 273 (7th Cir. 2014). Here, because Hernandez never made it to his appeal the criminal proceedings were not over. Because there was not an end to the criminal proceeding Hernandez will not be considered guilty of the crime of which he appealed, the original murder of Odin Lloyd. The people that support the abatement doctrine agree with this because there was not a ruling and someone like Hernandez could have possibly been ruled as innocent. With this possibility, it would seem unfair to label a person as guilty when they have not fully exhausted all of their resources to the appeal. In addition, there are a number of cases that are overturned in the appellate courts, therefore the possible clearing of Hernandez’s name is not out of the realm of possibilities. Thus, there will not be an official ruling on Hernandez’s trial because he did not make it to his appeal, upholding the basic idea of innocent until proven guilty American standard.
The fact that there is not a final ruling may not seem significant, however, it does make a substantial difference to the victim’s family. This is where the people that oppose the abatement ab initio doctrine have a disagreement with the practicality. The rule states that without a final criminal conviction, there can be no order of restitution under 18 U.S.C. § 3556. U.S. v. Volpendesto, 746 F.3d 273 (7th Cir. 2014). This is significant because restitution of under 18 U.S.C. § 3556 is stated as, “The court, in imposing a sentence on a defendant who has been found guilty of an offense shall order restitution in accordance with section 3663A, and may order restitution in accordance with section 3663. The procedures under section 3664 shall apply to all orders of restitution under this section.” Here, the victim’s family may be unfairly punished because the court may lack the power to order them restitution. The restitution is supposed to help make the victim’s family whole again. There are a couple of different theories behind the criminal justice system, one is revenge. It may make the victim’s family feel as if they have gotten revenge for what the defendant did to the victim. There are some different forms of this but the money is the most common go to. However, the abatement doctrine will deprive the victim’s family of more than pecuniary restitution. Some people may want the defendant to have the title of guilt for whatever crime they allegedly did, or were convicted of. As alluded to above, the abatement doctrine will also deprive the victim’s family of the defendant being recognized as a criminal or the person who hurt or killed their beloved family member. The people that usually oppose the abatement doctrine do not support for these reasons, it may seem as if it is a loophole to the criminal justice system, because the person on trial dies, or in this case took their own life, the guilt is washed away. Thus, because the lack of victim’s justice some people do oppose the abatement ab initio doctrine.
There is a strong counter argument to those who oppose the abatement doctrine. The idea that the victim’s family is left with nothing is not entirely true, there is another way for them to receive restitution. However, they must take their claim to the civil court. Forfeiture of “monies, negotiable instruments, securities, or other things of value furnished or intended to be furnished by any person in exchange for a controlled substance” does not abate on the death of property owner, since the provision is primarily civil in nature. Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, § 511(a)(6), 21 U.S.C.A. § 881(a)(6). U.S. v. $84,740.00 Currency, 981 F.2d 1110 (9th Cir. 1992). This refers to a case where one was selling drugs and was later detained by the FBI for a number of counts, and the defendant was found guilty at the trial court and was murdered in prison while waiting for their appeal date. Because the defendant did not make it to the appeal date the abatement doctrine took place which negated the crimes they had been charged with. Including the restitution to the victim, which in this case is the United States of America because of tax fraud and other things. This is pretty analogoues with the Aaron Hernandez situation. Hernandez was found guilty and had died before the appeal, leaving the victim without any damages. But with the knowledge that the civil court is still an option that is available to the alleged victim’s family for restitution despite the abandonment doctrine, it might seem as if there is still justice available to the victim’s family. While this is true if they do seek monetary damages, it may not still fulfill the desire of revenge by labeling the defendant as a criminal, or as a murder in this case. Thus, this is a strong counter argument that the victim’s family is unjustly hindered by the abatement doctrine, however, it does depend on what the victim’s family seeks.
Therefore, as of now, the Judge has agreed to vacate Aaron Hernandez’s murder conviction under the abatement ab initio doctrine, however, there is a summary judgment in civil proceedings favoring Odin Lloyds mother for monetary damages, but we can expect that there will be much more litigation to take place.
If you have questions about the law in San Diego, feel free to contact San Diego Criminal Lawyer Vik Monder anytime at 619-405-0063 or visit San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer