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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.

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  • 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
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 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
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 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
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 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
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 22:18
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The article is about cases WR-36,232-02 (Daniel Keller) and WR-36,864-02 (Frances Keller) in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The question relates to this finding of the Court made in each case on May 20, 2015:

[Each of Daniel and Frances Keller] also alleges that [s/he] is actually innocent of the offense. Based on both the trial court’s findings and this court’s own independent review of the record, those claims are denied.

Johnson J issued a concurring opinion, but seemingly would have declared actual innocence:

I would grant relief on all the grounds that have been raised. This was a witch hunt from the beginning … In spite of such fantastical claims, which should have produced total incredulity in the police investigators and prosecutors, charges were filed.

As noted in the article, the finding of actual innocence is significant because it affects the accused's reputation and the way that responsible publishers should report the allegations in the future. However, it also determines eligibility for compensation under § 103.001(a) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code:

A person is entitled to compensation if:

(1) the person has served in whole or in part a sentence in prison under the laws of this state; and

(2) the person …

(B) has been granted relief in accordance with a writ of habeas corpus that is based on a court finding or determination that the person is actually innocent of the crime for which the person was sentenced …

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Well, any police statement stating anything along the lines of having reasonable doubt that a crime even occurred would automatically be disregarded for obvious reasons such as:

1.) If the police truly had NO reasons to believe a crime even occured, then needing and/or requesting a police statement wouldn’t have deemed to be necessary in the first place. So, if the police state that they found no reason to believe a crime even occured , their level credibility and judgment will automatically be viewed as questionable

2.) If a significant amount of evidence is eventually found years down the line , lets say 20 years later, proving the person to be guilty of committing the crime, not only is the person who has been found to be guilty of committing the crime be responsible for the findings, but the police who wrote the statement would also be penalized for their faulty judgement ESPECIALLY if the evidence that was later found turns out to be evidence was simply overlooked through out the course of the entire investigation as opposed to it being a new finding of evidence.

3.) Lastly, the person MAY have committed the crime and the police may even have various reasons to believe that the person did in fact commit the crime the only thing that the following part of the statement: “ we have no reason to believe this person committed this crime…” implies is that they found no evidence to support their belief ,and therefore have no reason to believe that the person committed it.

4.) The person may very much be guilty of something pretaining to the crime for example omission , but may just not be the person who committed the crime directly. Also, the person’s actions/ inactions despite the level of severity, could simply have played a huge role in what happened as a result. Not only is that a plausible reason to believe that the person is guilty , but it also contradicts the police’s written statement of not believing that a crime has even been comitted if and when there are findings and evidence that are believed to suggest that participation in the crime took place in anyway way shape or form was identified; if you participated in any way , you are considered an accomplice according to the law and will be charged for the crime that you aided. All in all, because participation of any kind automatically means you are found guilty in the court of law, despite the level in which the participation took place, argo a crime did in fact occur . Participation, suggests a crime, despite having reason or lack of reason, as occurance of a crime and participation suggests reason or lack of

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  • No (present) reason to believe a criminal act occurred is not the same as no reason to investigate whether a criminal act occurred.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 4:55

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