CBS Crimesider Features Two Stories of Compensation for Wrongfully Convicted
Following up on the Innocence Blog’s Wednesday post about a
guest editorial calling for greater compensation for the nation’s exonerees, today’s post highlights a CBS News
story that also discusses compensation for the wrongfully convicted and explains the hurdles that many exonerees must overcome before the government will rightfully compensate them for time lost.
details the cases of Marty Tankleff of New York and Anthony Graves of Texas, two exonerees who were awarded compensation by their respective states. Tankleff served 17 years for the murder of his parents before new evidence proved his innocence in 2007. Seven years later he won a settlement of nearly $3.4 million in a wrongful conviction lawsuit against New York State, but he has yet to receive the money. Graves served 18 years in prison — 12 of them on death row — after being wrongfully convicted of playing a role in the horrific murders of two women and four children before evidence of his innocence freed him in 2010. Six months later, he received $1.45 million under Texas’ wrongful conviction compensation statute.
Rebecca Brown, Director on State Policy Reform for the Innocence Project, told Crimesider that of the states that do have compensation statues, each differs, and some impose restrictions that could prove problematic.
For example, several states require that the person did not “contribute to their own conviction” in order to reap the benefits of the state’s compensation statute. In other words, a person who falsely confessed or pleaded guilty to a crime they didn’t commit could be prohibited from receiving compensation.
The Innocence Project recommends that the government compensate exonerated people immediately after release with a fixed sum or a range of recovery for each year of wrongful incarceration that meets the federal standard of $50,000 for each year a person spends in prison, with no exclusion of people who pled guilty or falsely confessed. Under the federal statute, exonerees could also receive up to $100,000 per year spent on death row. Additionally, the Innocence Project says that states should reimburse exonerees’ attorney fees, make subsistence funds available immediately and offer a range of social services, including mental health services, medical and dental care, and access to housing and education.
Graves agrees. He said that Texas should provide free healthcare benefits to the wrongfully convicted. He told Crimesider that he had to pay $500 monthly for health insurance upon his release. “That’s the biggest disappointment. There was nothing in place to help me make a transition,” Graves told Crimesider. “I walked out from solitary confinement out onto the streets with nothing.”
For the 21 states that have yet to pass a compensation statute, exonerees can pursue a civil rights lawsuit or a private compensation bill. Both options require long legal battles. Graves, who established a law school scholarship in the name of the attorney that helped to free him from prison, says that no amount of money can make up for lost time.
“A billion dollars would not buy back those 18 years that I could see my kids growing up,” Graves told Crimesider.
Brown, of the Innocence Project, agrees. “But,” she told Crimesider, “it is incumbent upon the state to ensure that we do all that we can to make a person as whole as we can after they have lived through that horrific experience.”
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