Apart from a direct appeal, there are several other avenues of judicial relief to be explored for our clients seeking to overturn a conviction or lessen their punishment. These include motions for a new trial, motions for sentence reduction, motions to vacate guilty pleas, federal habeas corpus petitions, and petitions for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. Based upon the procedural history of the case and the substantive issues presented, we seek to identify for our clients all available options and formulate a plan which maximizes the likelihood of success. Where all judicial avenues have been exhausted, we may explore the alternative of seeking executive clemency.
Perhaps the most commonly-traversed avenue for seeking post-conviction relief from state convictions is the motion for new trial. Unlike direct appeals, new trial motions are not limited to the historical record of what transpired in court during the trial and sentencing. Rather, additional materials may be presented in the form of affidavits, documents, or witness testimony. Through a new trial motion, our clients might raise, for instance, a claim that their former attorney provided them with constitutionally-ineffective assistance of counsel. Through a new trial motion, our clients may also be able to raise a claim that the prosecution withheld important evidence or present critical evidence that came to light only after their conviction. Rankin & Sultan is often retained to review trial counsel’s entire file and the trial record in order to determine whether we can identify meritorious grounds for seeking relief on a motion for new trial.
Depending on the particular claim raised, the preparation of a new trial motion may resemble preparing for trial itself. Witnesses and experts may have to be interviewed, file affidavits, and testify at a court hearing. We also conduct extensive legal research. Sometimes, a new trial motion will raise a claim that scientific or other expert testimony introduced at trial was faulty, or that critical scientific evidence or technology is now available that was not available at the time of trial. In those cases, we master the science and technology to educate the judges who will decide the merits of our claims.
After all avenues of seeking relief from a state court conviction have been exhausted in the Massachusetts courts, we may explore the preparation of a Federal habeas corpus petition to pursue our client’s Federal constitutional claims. Federal habeas law is extremely complex, strict time limits apply, and only counsel with extensive experience in this area should be retained for this purpose. Rankin & Sultan are among the relatively small number of Massachusetts practitioners who frequently litigate habeas petitions in Federal Court.
If you or a loved one has failed to obtain relief from a state court conviction in the Massachusetts state courts, please call us for a free consultation to determine whether a Federal habeas petition may be pursued. Federal habeas petitions may also be employed as a vehicle to challenge Federal convictions after all Federal appellate remedies have been exhausted.