The Abatement of Aaron Hernandez
The news made waves when it first happened. Aaron Hernandez, former star tight end of the NFL’s New England Patriots, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. That happened in 2015.
Two years later, Hernandez was serving his life sentence in prison. On April 19, about one month ago, he hanged himself in his cell.
Last week, Hernandez’ murder conviction was vacated. He is no longer considered a convicted murderer in the eyes of the law. The reason for this surprising decision centers around one word: abatement.
The Definition of Abatement:
As CNN and other news outlets have reported, “Massachusetts courts have generally recognized a legal rule called…abatement, in which convictions are thrown out if a defendant dies before his or her appeal is heard.” Since Hernandez had not yet exhausted all of his opportunities for appeal before his suicide, his murder conviction was abated. Posthumously, and in the eyes of the law, he is no longer guilty of murder.
As the CNN article points out, this ruling is not unique to Aaron Hernandez. The judge presiding over this case was simply following precedent. It also does not mean that Hernandez was innocent. It simply ensures the right for defendants to appeal, and when they are not able to do that, abatement of the conviction is the result.
The Fallout of Hernandez’ Abatement:
This is obviously a delicate subject. The family of Odin Lloyd – the man that Hernandez was originally convicted of murdering – still believe he is guilty, even though the legal system says otherwise. They will always have the conviction itself and the fact that Hernandez was serving a life sentence in prison.
Prosecutors are appealing Hernandez’ abatement, citing his suicide as a “calculated act.” This would change the judge’s abatement ruling, which is having a major legal impact on the status of Hernandez’ estate. That, however, is outside the scope of this article.
The Fact of Abatement:
Our legal system is designed to operate under the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” This includes trials and rights to appeal. The concept of abatement, therefore, is a good thing.
Abatement is always controversial because of its result. Someone previously convicted of a crime is not convicted any longer, and not because of a successful appeal or new evidence to prove that he or she did not commit the crime. Rather, it is because that person has died before the legal process could reach its full conclusion.
Add in Hernandez’ cause of death, his previous celebrity status, and the public nature of his trial, and you have a recipe for newsworthy controversy. It does not change the fact that the judge in this case did the right thing by following Massachusetts law. Giving a man his innocence who could have possibly still earned it while living is the right thing to do.
While Virginia does not follow this concept in the same way as Massachusetts, it provides a perfect reason why a free consultation with an attorney can be so helpful to you. Learn from this situation, and call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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