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The Virginia Appellate Lawyer’s Court of Appeals of Virginia Blog

Court of Appeals Grants Writ of Actual Innocence

In Marvin Leon Grimm, Jr., v. Commonwealth of Virginia the Court of Appeals grants a writ of actual innocence. Grimm’s claim of innocence rested on modern forensic testing of material evidence recovered from the victim and the assertion that his confession was coerced in an abduction/sexual assault/murder case for 1976. Suffice to say that forensic science has advanced sufficiently in the last 48 years that DNA and other testing not available in 1976 showed that all of the forensic evidence relied upon by the Commonwealth to tie Grimm to the crimes was shown to be inaccurate or to actually exclude Grimm or the victim as the source of the evidence. Moreover, the new evidence shows that the Commonwealth's alleged timeline for the crimes was not credible, nor was the nature of the confession free from the taint of coercion and not credible given that Grimm could not accurately describe the crime relating only information from media or provided by law enforcement.

This is hardly the first case in which an individual has spent most of his life in prison for a crime he almost certainly did not commit. And while the ability to prove actual innocence is difficult, it should not be discounted in cases where new evidence -- or new scientific procedures to test evidence -- can provide proof of a wrongful conviction.

More than 10 percent of wrongful convictions involve false confessions, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, and the percentage is far higher in homicide cases, according to data collected by the Innocence Project. Mr. Grimm is now among the exonerees who have served the most years in prison. The National Registry of Exonerations says that the longest time served was 48 years. All told, the registry says, the wrongfully convicted have served 25,000 years.

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