Compensating the Wrongfully Convicted

In recent years, forensic DNA technology has advanced and become more efficient; a direct effect of that is more inmates are being exonerated for false conviction. Currently, 20 out of the 50 states do not yet have compensation statutes that promise payment to innocent people that have spent time in prison; Hawaii being part of the 20 that does not yet have a statute. Anyone can be convicted for a crime that they did not commit due to false testimonies and unfortunate circumstances.

Everyone should have security knowing that if their legal system makes a mistake, they will definitely receive compensation. Although 30 states have statutes that provide wrongfully convicted exonerees with compensation, the compensation varies incredibly among the different states. For example, without suing the state, an exoneree in Louisiana receives $25,000 per year but cannot exceed $250,000. On the other hand, in Florida, an exoneree is compensated $80,000 per year spent in prison. On the moral side, most people support the idea of compensating exonerees, however the fiscal aspect is what is holding governments back.

According to , in 1996 there was a study done by the Ohio State University Criminal Justice Research Center that concluded that about 10,000 people in the United States are wrongfully convicted every year for serious crimes. The , a project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, stated that in 2013 a record-breaking 90 people were released from prison due to their innocence being proven. As of May 2014, there have already been 31 releases.

The most recent news headline regarding compensating a wrongfully convicted person is in Connecticut. In 1986, Barbara Pelkey was raped and murdered and three years later, Kenneth Ireland was sent to prison for being responsible. In 1989 a couple falsely accused Ireland of the crime to receive a $20,000 reward. Ireland spent 21 years in a notoriously violent prison and had a lot of traumatic experiences, such as losing a part of his finger and being sentenced to one year in solitary confinement. In 2009 he was released after DNA tests proved that Kevin Benefield was responsible for the crime. In 2012, Benefield was sentenced to 60 years in prison and now Ireland is seeking $5.4 million to $8 million under Connecticut’s wrongful incarceration law. The world moved ahead without Ireland, leaving him at a very big disadvantage to “pick up where he left off.” Michael Lefebvre, an attorney who worked on the Project ate at a restaurant with Ireland the day he was exonerated. According to Lefebvre, “In this restaurant there was a large mirror and as he stood in front of this mirror, [Ireland] just starred. He said ‘I didn’t recognize the old man in the mirror.’” It is only fair that the state compensates him that amount, considering the amount of time he spent in prison and what he had to endure while in prison.

A case that is currently under some fire is that of Damon Thibodeaux from Louisiana. He was on death row for 15 years on charges for the rape and strangulation of Crystal Champagne in Bridge City. He was freed because of a re-examination of DNA and other evidence. He asked the state for a mere $330,000 for the 15 years, but the state stated Thibodeaux needs to prove “factual innocence” to receive compensation. Despite the evidence that proved Thibodeaux’s

According to the . States also prohibit compensation to those who have “contributed” to their conviction, such as pleading guilty even though they were coerced into doing so. Another common case is that governments donI have to find an article stating that a state did not pay the exoneree because they didn’t have the proper funds. It all depends on where the government prioritizes their money. For example, Florida had set aside a $1.2 million budget to compensate Alan Crotzer who was imprisoned for 24 years, however they dropped the payment so that they could pay $4.8 million to the family of a teenager who died in juvenile boot camp.

This argument is extremely relevant to residents of Hawaii because we are one of the 20 states that still do not have a statute ensuring compensation to the wrongfully convicted. With the increased accuracy of forensic DNA technology, we can be sure that more innocent people will be released from Hawaii prisons with no compensation. Currently, the point of disagreement (stasis) are people who are willing to take a big chunk of the state governmentThis is a problem that affects everyone because people who are wrongfully convicted are just as innocent as anyone else. Those who were wrongfully convicted deserve not only compensation, but access to services such as therapy, job counseling, technology classes, etc. A problem that many people underestimate is the difficulty of technology for those that have never been exposed to it. If you were convicted 20 years ago, the world has become a very different place and it could be overwhelming adapting to the new environment. For example, Fernando Bermudez, who finally released in 2009 after spending 18 years in prison, stated “I actually got dizzy at a department store and grocery store because all of the colors and selections overwhelmed me.” A lot of people think that it is happily ever after after an inmate is exonerated, but that is just the beginning of a whole different plague of problems for victims.

The main reason why governments donHowever, according to Brandon Garret, a University of Virginia law professor, “states that pay the wrongfully convicted might actually be trying to save money.” This is because it is more likely that a victim will give up their right to sue to collect the set payment. Garrett says that it is possible that policymakers may have decided that it’s more economically beneficial for states “to encourage people to take more moderate compensation early on and maybe forgo the multimillion-dollar lawsuit.”

Every state should have a statute guaranteeing those who were wrongfully convicted fair compensation. According to the Innocence Project, in 2004 Congress and President George W. Bush had recommended that the amount of compensation should be set at $50,000 per year spent in prison, and $100,000 for every year spent on death row. This doesn’t even include inflation. Even though some states don’t even have a statute, $50,000 (a little above the average yearly salary) is not enough to compensate for the amount of time and money lost in prison, not to mention all of the physical and emotional pain victims will have to carry forever. With inflation included, the amount that George W. Bush and Congress had set in 2004 would be equal to about $63,225 in 2014. This current recommendation should be the minimum amount paid to an exoneree per year in every state. This proposition does not only help those who need to rebuild their lives from ground zero, it also may lower the number of exonerees who make multimillion-dollar lawsuits against the state.

One Comment to “Compensating the Wrongfully Convicted”

  1. I completely agree that every state should guarantee compensation for people that were wrongfully convicted. $50,000 dollars a year seems like a fair number to me. Innocent people who have spent years in prison deserve more than just money. They need someone to rehabilitate them after being set free. If they have spent a good portion of their life in prison, it is likely they will have trouble functioning in society. Innocent people left to rot away in jail may have formed mental illnesses and probably suffered physical and emotional abuse by guards or other inmates. Years of their life with family and friends were robbed from them and it is only fair that they be compensated for that time. On top of compensation, I think a life coach of some sort should be assigned to them so that they can get the help they need to find a job and learn skills they may have forgotten while in jail.

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