On March 13, 2019 the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reinstated the murder conviction of the former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. This decision overturned the common law doctrine in Massachusetts of abatement ab initio, which allowed a criminal defendant's conviction to be vacated if he or she passed away while a direct appeal was pending.
Aaron Hernandez was originally convicted of first degree murder on April 15, 2015 in Bristol County Superior Court. The verdict was appealed by Hernandez. While the appeal was pending, Hernandez passed away while in prison, in what was widely believed to be a suicide. As a result of his death, The Superior Court held that the convictions were to be vacated under the doctrine of abatement ab initio.
In the Supreme Judicial Court's recent decision, it was held that that this doctrine should no longer apply in Massachusetts. The justices analyzed the history of the rarely used doctrine, and determined that it should no longer apply in Massachusetts. As such, Hernandez is once again a convicted felon. This is likely to have a number consequences to Hernandez' estate and the families of the victims of his crimes.
Legally, this case shows that even seemingly well-established legal doctrines can be changed in a criminal appeal. Where a trial court made an incorrect legal decision, or a decision that is otherwise likely to be overturned on appeal, it is always wise to consider an appeal. Although Hernandez' conviction was reinstated, for most convicted defendants, an appeal can potentially result in the overturning of a conviction, or the right to be given a new trial. If you or a loved one have been convicted and believe there are issues that should be appealed, you should contact an experienced criminal appeals lawyer today to preserve your appellate rights.