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I just read an article in the Austin Chronicle (link) about Fran and Dan Keller, who were convicted of a felony in the Oak Hill satanic ritual abuse trial. The article states that "their felony convictions have been 'vacated', but they're technically on bonded status...the absence of an explicit exoneration leaves her and Dan at the mercy of any online background search."

The article also states that "Their 1992 conviction...has effectively been overturned by a May 2015 Court of Criminal Appeals ruling 'granting relief' to the Kellers...but the ruling was not accompanied by actual exoneration."

I haven't found concrete information online about what effects of the original judgment a vacation or an exoneration reverse, although this statement would imply that a vacation doesn't expunge the criminal record whereas a full exoneration would.

Can these words be precisely defined in terms of what the effects the court can compel to happen? E.g. release from prison, expungment of criminal record, etc.

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Reading the linked article, the situation is basically this: The couple was convicted based on evidence that has since turned out to be false. Whatever evidence remains should not have led to a conviction. But in this case, just as there is no evidence that the couple did commit the crime, there is no evidence that they didn't.

In this case, it seems highly unlikely that they did anything wrong and most likely to be innocent. To vacate a judgement, the standard seems to be "innocent unless proven guilty"; for an exoneration it seems to be "guilty (not exonerated) unless proven innocent". The couple went from "guilty of murder" to "suspected of murder".

As an example, imagine there was a murder, there was DNA that 100% belonged to the murderer, a lab declared that the DNA is yours, and you got convicted. It turns out that the lab never looked at the DNA and made up the report. The judgement gets vacated. If the DNA is gone, you cannot be exonerated. If the DNA is still there and is shown not to be yours, you are exonerated.

  • Do you have any idea what legal precedents established this standard of guilty unless proven innocent for an exoneration? Again it seems like a strange reversal to me as they would not likely be convicted if the original trial were redone with all the evidence they know now. – Andy Mar 17 '16 at 19:25
  • Nevermind, there was some information about legal precedents in an answer to a similar question of mine: law.stackexchange.com/a/7795/4773 – Andy Mar 17 '16 at 19:30
  • @Andy: If I claimed you were the person committing a certain unsolved murder 10 years ago, and you managed to force the police to make a statement about it, they would say "we have no reason to believe that Andy was involved in this murder". They wouldn't say "Andy did not commit this murder" because they don't know. – gnasher729 Mar 18 '16 at 20:08
  • Yes, that makes sense...but why would the conviction remain on someone's record if the official statement would have to be "we have no reason to believe this person committed this crime or that a crime even occurred"? – Andy Mar 18 '16 at 22:18

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