Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Price of a Wrongful Conviction

What is a year of your life worth? If you spent it behind bars for a crime you didn't commit, the answer may be lower than you think. As NPR reported yesterday, slightly more than half the states have procedures in place for restitution when a wrongfully-convicted person is exonerated. An interactive map, with links to the relevant code sections, is available courtesy of the Innocence Project.

North Carolina fixes the amount at $50,000 per year in prison – an amount equal to the federal government and several other states, though experts note that this amount was selected by the federal government ten years ago simply to match the top-paying state at the time. Texas tops the list at $80,000, while Wisconsin offers only $5,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment.

Although Wisconsin may look comparatively stingy, the states which offer higher amounts are not necessarily being generous. In many states, acceptance of the fixed payout waives a former inmate's right to sue – which could cost the state much more in potential legal fees and damage awards. And as outlined in a 2012 Albany Law Review article, many exonerees must wait for years to receive their statutory compensation.

To learn more about the legal issues surrounding wrongful convictions, try a subject search of the Duke Libraries Catalog for "Judicial error – United States". You’ll find titles like Duke Law alumni author James R. Acker's 2011 title Wrongful Conviction: Law, Science, and Policy. For help locating this or other resources about wrongful convictions, be sure to Ask a Librarian.