What role does actual innocence play in Connecticut habeas corpus cases? Find out here.
An attack on the judgment based on a claim of actual innocence is permissible in habeas. See General Statutes § 52-470(f); see also Miller v. Commissioner, 242 Conn. 745, 747, 791-803 (1997)(delineating the standard that a habeas petitioner who claims actual innocence must meet in order to gain a new trial).
In addition, the imprisonment of a person for a crime he or she did not commit violates due process of law. See Jackson v. Commissioner, 227 Conn. 124, 132 n.7 (1993); Lozada v. Warden, 223 Conn. 834, 840 (1992). That recognition got reflected in Summerville v. Warden, 229 Conn. 397, 422 (1994), when the Connecticut Supreme Court held that, “a substantial claim of actual innocence is cognizable by way of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, even in the absence of proof by the petitioner of an antecedent constitutional violation that affected the result of his criminal trial.”
In addition, the court observed that it would offend due process to ignore actual innocence claims in the name of upholding judgments or honoring the principle of finality. Id. When a substantial claim of actual innocence gets brought in a habeas petition, the claim constitutes a “freestanding” claim of actual innocence. Miller v. Commissioner, 242 Conn. at 788 n.28.
In Miller v. Commissioner, supra, 242 Conn. 745, the Connecticut Supreme Court determined the standard of proof necessary to sustain a claim of actual innocence brought in a habeas petition.
Drawing from Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390 (1993) and In re Clark, 5 Cal. 4th 750, 766, 855 P.2d 729, 21 Cal. Rptr.2d 509 (1993), the court held that a petitioner advancing a freestanding claim of actual innocence, “must establish by clear and convincing evidence that, taking into account all the evidence – both the evidence adduced at the original criminal trial and the evidence adduced at the habeas corpus trial – he is actually innocent of the crime of which he stands convicted…that, after considering all of that evidence and the inferences drawn therefrom…no reasonable fact finder would find the petitioner guilty of the crime.” 242 Conn. at 747; see Id. at 791-92, 794, 799-800; see also Clarke v. Commissioner, 249 Conn. 350, 355 (1999).
“‘[F]actual’ and ‘actual’ innocence have the same meaning and get used interchangeably…” Miller, 242 Conn. at 787 n.26. In Gould v. Commissioner, 301 Conn. 544 (2011), the Connecticut Supreme Court elaborated on the meaning of “actual innocence” under Miller. Id. at 546.
The court held that “[a]ctual innocence is not demonstrated merely by showing that there was insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt…Rather, actual innocence is demonstrated by affirmative proof that the petitioner did not commit the crime…Affirmative proof of actual innocence is that which might tend to establish that the petitioner could not have committed the crime even though it is unknown who committed the crime, that a third party committed the crime or that no crime actually occurred…Clear and convincing proof of actual innocence does not, however, require the petitioner to establish that his or her guilt is a factual impossibility.” (Internal citations omitted; emphasis in original) Id. at 560-64; see also Jackson v. Commissioner, 149 Conn. App. 681, 705-07, cert. granted on other grounds, 313 Conn. 901 (2014).
The “[Connecticut] Supreme Court has deemed the issue of whether a habeas petitioner must support his claim of actual innocence with newly discovered evidence an open question in [Connecticut] habeas jurisprudence…” Jackson v. Commissioner, 149 Conn. App. at 707-08. The Connecticut Appellate Court, however, has concluded that the petitioner must, “‘demonstrate that the evidence put forth in support of [the] claim of actual innocence is newly discovered…This evidentiary burden is satisfied if a petitioner can demonstrate, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the proffered evidence could not have been discovered prior to the petitioner’s criminal trial by the exercise of due diligence.’”
Jackson, 149 Conn. App. at 708 (quoting Gaston v. Commissioner, 125 Conn. App. 553, 558-59, cert. denied, 300 Conn. 908 (2011)); see generally Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 316 (1995)(newly discovered evidence used to support an actual innocence claim may include “exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts, or critical physical evidence”).
In Gould v. Commissioner, supra, 301 Conn. 544, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that a credible recantation of testimony that was the sole evidence of guilt at trial does not constitute clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence, as required under Miller. Gould, 301 Conn. at 546-64. “[T]he Miller test…requires affirmative evidence that the petitioner did not commit the crime of which [the petitioner] [was] convicted, not simply the discrediting of evidence on which the conviction rested.” Id. at 546-47; see also Jackson v. Commissioner, 149 Conn. App. at 712-14.
When the judgment under attack stems from a guilty plea, the petitioner may be precluded from bringing an actual innocence claim in the habeas petition. See Johnson v. Warden, 2013 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2288 (2013) (citing Weeks v. Bowersox, 119 F.3d 1342, 1355 (8th Cir. 1997)) . This is because an actual innocence claim after the petitioner has pled guilty may amount to nothing more than an after the fact challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. See D’Onofrio v. Commissioner, 36 conn. App. 691, 693-94 (1995). Generally speaking, “[a] defendant is not entitled to withdraw his plea merely because he discovers long after the plea has been accepted that his calculus misapprehended the quality of the State’s case…” Brady United States, 397 U.S. 742, 756 (1970).