News 12.22.14

Compensation difficult for wrongfully convicted to obtain – even in states with statutes

Stories in the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free-Press this weekend highlighted the immense challenges that exonerees, in California, Michigan and states around the country, can face when seeking compensation for wrongful convictions. 


Although 30 states and the District of Columbia have statutes that provide for some form of compensation to the wrongfully convicted, a number of barriers often stand in the way. In California, the Times reported, some who have been wrongfully convicted never filed a claim because they cannot afford a lawyer or one who is willing to take on the case. Additionally, applicants seeking compensation in California not only have to prove actual innocence, they must also show that they had not ‘”contributed to their conviction’ … by pleading guilty, running from police or belonging to a gang.” (According to data compiled by the Innocence Project, nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 325 DNA exonerees pled guilty to crimes they did not commit. This exemplifies the faultiness of the requirement that an applicant not have pled guilty, as an innocent person who was, say, coerced or tricked into a guilty plea would not be eligible for compensation under California’s law.)  And, if compensation is granted, it must be approved by the state legislature, which can and has scuttled payment that was OK’d by the state compensation board. California provides $100 per day in prison, or an annual maximum of $36,500. Michigan has no statute providing for compensation, and a recent bill that would have codified compensation at $60,000 a year plus damages died at the end of session, according to the Free-Press. 

The articles highlighted a number of cases in California and Michigan, including those of Rafael Madrigal, and Thomas and Raymond Highers, whom were wrongfully convicted for murders they did not commit and are trying to rebuild their lives without the benefit of any form of compensation, or even social services, which are available to parolees but not exonerees.   

“If you’re an exoneree, you get nothing. You don’t get any of that. You don’t have a parole officer. You walk out. That’s it,” Caitlin Plummer, a staff attorney with the University of Michigan Innocence Clinic told the Free Press. “They treat you as if it never happened and just send you out the door with nothing.”

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