SJC rejects abatement ab initio, reinstates convictions of Aaron Hernandez.


Byline: Kris Olson

The convictions of former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez in the murder of Odin Lloyd will stand as "neither affirmed nor reversed" because Hernandez died in prison while his appeal was pending, the Supreme Judicial Court decided March 13.

The SJC had been asked to review the common-law rule of abatement ab initio, which, if applied, have voided Hernandez's convictions.

But the court concluded that the doctrine is "outdated and no longer consonant with the circumstances of contemporary life, if, in fact, it ever was," Justice Elspeth B. Cypher wrote.

She continued, "Rather, when a defendant dies irrespective of cause, while a direct appeal as of right challenging his conviction is pending, the proper course is to dismiss the appeal as moot and note in the trial court record that the conviction removed the defendant's presumption of innocence, but that the conviction was appealed and neither affirmed nor reversed because the defendant died."

The court said such an approach should generally apply only prospectively, but also in Hernandez's case.

"Here, the Commonwealth objected at the time to the trial judge's abatement ab initio order and then pursued this appeal and successfully urged us to abandon and replace that doctrine," Cypher wrote. "Therefore, we see no reason why the Commonwealth should not have the benefit of that new rule in this case."

A jury convicted Hernandez of murder in the first degree, and he had been sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment with no eligibility for parole.

About two years later, Hernandez apparently killed himself while awaiting assembly of the record for his appeal.

In a footnote, the SJC acknowledged the theory that Hernandez had been aware of the doctrine of abatement ab initio and its potential financial implications for his family, "but, given our ruling, we need not, and do...

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