In 2006, Dallin D. Fort who is now 39 years old was found guilty of raping a relative who was 9 years old at the time the alleged rape occurred in 2003. Now, the Washington Court of Appeal’s Third Division has overturned Fort’s conviction and granted him a new trial.
The decision was unanimous among the three-member panel, who vacated Fort’s 132-month sentence at Airway Heights Corrections Center because of the fact jurors were questioned by the judge in private prior to the beginning of the trial. The appeals court made its decision based on State v. Frawley, a previous Washington Supreme Court opinion that found unless the judge made a written ruling determining a court closure was justified, jury selection could not take place outside the courtroom. Prior to this decision, Washington judges presiding over sex crimes cases routinely questioned potential jurors in private.
Fort appealed his conviction twice, the first time just months following sentencing in early 2006. The appeals court found that because the issue of a public trial was not brought up in the first appeal, Fort’s lawyer at trial provided ineffective counsel. Fort’s conviction in the first appeal was confirmed.
No trial date has yet been scheduled for the new trial. One of the judges on the panel who voted to overturn Fort’s conviction wrote that although a new trial would be potentially traumatic for the victim and costly, “the sanctity of constitutional rights and Supreme Court precedence compel that we grant Dallin Fort a new trial.”
Michigan criminal appeals attorneys understand that having a conviction overturned is an extremely difficult process, however the effort is well worth it when a person’s constitutional rights have been violated or errors made, resulting in a prison sentence. Every person has the right to a fair trial, however there are times when that right is compromised. Judges, jurors, prosecutors, even defense attorneys make mistakes. However, when those mistakes or errors result in a verdict that could have potentially gone the other way or violate a defendant’s rights, it may be to the defendant’s benefit to appeal a verdict or sentence.
If you feel you have been unjustly convicted of a crime, consult with a highly experienced Michigan criminal appeals lawyer right away. A guilty verdict is not a dead end; there are often other avenues you need to pursue.