John Harchar, 46, was freed from a New Jersey prison after seven years in a post-conviction appeal over lawyer malfeasance, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. More New Jersey inmates than ever are asking the courts to take a fresh look at their cases through post-conviction relief, a last-ditch legal instrument available only after all standard appeals have been exhausted.
Post-conviction relief cases allow certain matters that can’t be reviewed on appeal to be put back in play. The success rate is low: 7 percent last year 2005, down from 11.4 percent in 1991. Case filings jumped 46 percent across the state over the past four years, up to 762 in the state fiscal year that ended June 30. Critics of New Jersey’s state’s system say that has put stress on already overloaded courts, because the filings often require fresh testimony. The strain will grow: Legal experts expect post-conviction relief filings to climb as mandatory minimum terms and other get-tough-on-crime measures increase the length of prison sentences. Longer stays mean inmates “have more time to do more applications,” said a prosecutor.