According to Twitter, “Steven Avery just won his appeal!” Well… not that appeal. Stay with me.
Steven Avery was tried an convicted in a trial court. He has the right to appeal all of the unfavorable decisions made by the judge at his trial (including the ruling on motions that were denied) regarding the investigation and trial. One argument is ineffective assistance of counsel, but how could he ever accuse the most dreamy defense team ever of being ineffective?!
Trial courts hear/accept evidence (physical and testimonial). Appeals courts decide if, based on the current “good” law, the trial court “got it right.” There can be two, three or even five stops on the appeals process depending upon where you start and how far you go. That’s a whole other thing, so to keep it simple Steven Avery has three shots at his appeal.
But that process has been halted to bring up a new issue- “spoliation” or destruction of evidence. The losing party, specifically a defendant has a several appellate arguments. Almost all of the arguments have to be raised within a certain amount of time. Misconduct by the state/government or newly discovered evidence are two issues that a defendant can probably raise decades later if supported by evidence.
Steven Avery is detouring off of his primary appeal and now asking for a hearing to determine if state “destroyed” evidence in bad faith. The appeals Court stayed/stopped the appeal and remanded the case to a trial court to take new testimony on this one issue. It doesn’t mean he’s waking free or even getting a new trial, but it could.
According to his attorney, the Defense believes that bones that police identified as the victim’s were never actually tested for DNA and they were returned to the family who buried the remains effectually “destroying” the evidence.
I keep putting quotations around “destroy” not because I don’t know how to properly use quotations, but because nothing was actually destroyed as far as we know. Issues that will be investigating in a evidentiary hearing are things like:
1) where are the bones, 2) what is the chain of custody of the handling of the bones, and 3) can they now be tested. Sadly, it means they will probably be exhumed and the family will have to endure that pain.
If the remains are not the victim’s, then it becomes a newly discovered evidence issue. If the bones cannot be tested or were truly destroyed, the test is that of Arizona v. Youngblood. This United States Supreme Court case states that the destruction evidence is merely “potentially useful” to the defendant is not enough for a new trial unless it was done maliciously or in bad faith.
The good news is that this probably means Season 3 of Making a Murderer! The bad news is this poor victim’s family’s closure is further and further away.
If you watched Making A Murderer, you know there was a LOT of bad blood between Avery and law enforcement when the murder occurred. Avery’s whole defense was that the police framed him. Is this finally the proof that he needed? It’s been a while since I watched the documentary, but I believe that the only evidence linking Avery to the victim was 1) her key in his house found during an extraneous search by an office Avery was suing, 2) the bones which were allegedly the victim’s, and 3) a smear of Avery’s blood in the victim’s car after the vile of Avery’s blood in police custody seemed to be tampered with.
This is a very curious twist in a very sad story. It’s a testament to the need for good police work in our communities. Victim’s and their families deserve “open/shut” cases. This case is marred by bad police work, even where some detectives did a good job. Only time will tell how this saga ends. I’ll be watching, will you?