DNA testing has played a large role in revealing wrongful convictions. Wrongful convictions destroy the lives of innocent people and their families, and in the process the guilty party goes free. Since 1989 over 350 people have been wrongfully convicted and later exonerated. 123 death row inmates have proven their innocence since 1973.
We tend to think of wrongful convictions as a criminal issue, not a civil issue, but when someone is wrongly imprisoned they have the right to compensation, especially when the wrongful conviction is due to negligence or intentional wrongdoing on the part of police, prosecutors, or the courts.
It is true that the bulk of the work involved in a wrongful conviction case is on the criminal side, but once a person is freed from wrongful imprisonment, he or she has a whole new set of problems to face. Often these problems are far worse than those faced by guilty convicts when released.
When a person is paroled or fulfills his sentence he is entitled to certain services to help him reintegrate into society and make a living. Ironically, those who are released due to wrongful imprisonment are not entitled to these services, they are simply on their own.
Diminished Earning Capacity
Years in prison have the same practical effect on a person’s ability to make a living whether he is innocent or guilty. Years away from the workforce, outdated skills, resume gaps, the inability to obtain an education or training, and the fact that many employers are uncomfortable hiring a person who has been incarcerated regardless of guilt or innocence, all make it difficult to find a job and especially difficult to make a wage comparable to what would have been attainable had they not been wrongfully imprisoned.
Those who have been wrongfully imprisoned face psychological and emotional challenges which are often far more disabling than those who were incarcerated for real crimes. The psychological impact of spending years or sometimes decades in prison for a crime which you did not commit, losing your family, your home, and a big chunk of your life, due to someone else’s incompetence or wrongdoing can be far more damaging than being punished for a crime for which you were responsible.
In addition to permanent emotional and psychological personal injury, those who have been wrongfully convicted face the risk of incurring permanent health problems to which they would not have otherwise been exposed. There is the real threat of physical violence leading to injury, permanent disability or death, and an elevated chance of being exposed to infections and diseases such as MRSA, hepatitis, and HIV.
Compensation is not Automatic
It would seem that compensation would be a natural part of exoneration and release, once wrongful conviction has been proven, but it is not. Currently less than half of all states have laws which entitle those who were wrongfully convicted to compensation for their tremendous loss. Even in those that do, compensation is not automatic, you must file for it in court, and many have exceptions which prevent those who made coerced confessions from being eligible. More laws are being considered on both state and federal levels, which may help the wrongfully convicted to receive compensation, but would also put a limit on how much they can receive.
Seeking compensation for wrongful conviction is a difficult and complicated process. Merely proving that you have been wrongfully convicted and securing exoneration does not guarantee compensation. No amount of money can replace lost years, but it can be a first step in putting your life back together. You must have the help of an experienced attorney to receive the compensation that you need and deserve.
If you or a loved one has been exonerated for wrongful conviction, pleasecontact an experienced civil rights or personal injury attorney today.