Does imprisoning an innocent person violate the United States Constitution?

By: Paul Casteleiro, Legal Director

Currently, as shocking as it may be, imprisoning a person who is actually innocent does not violate the United States Constitution and as a result, a federal court has no power to grant habeas corpus relief based solely on evidence proving a person’s innocence. Centurion has teamed with the Innocence Project of New York, in support of the Exoneration Initiative’s client Archie Cosey, in filing an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for Second Circuit arguing that the conviction of an innocent person is, in and of itself, unconstitutional and that a person who can prove his/her innocence should not also be required to prove, over and above their proof of innocence, that there was an additional constitutional violation to obtain federal habeas corpus relief.

To date, the Supreme Court has recognized that a person’s actual innocence is only relevant in overcoming the limitations and procedural bars to bringing a federal habeas corpus action. Therefore absent other constitutional error in the person’s trial resulting in the conviction their actual innocence is irrelevant.

The writ of habeas corpus is referred to in our history as the “Great Writ” because its purpose is to protect against the tyranny of the executive by prohibiting a person’s unlawful imprisonment.  One would think habeas corpus relief would be mandatory when the evidence shows the person is innocent.

Recognition that all persons who are actually innocent have a federal constitutional right not to be imprisoned is long overdue and hopefully, this fundamental right will be recognized by the court in Archie Cosey’s case.

Read the case referenced in the filing Cosey-v.-Lilley