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After exoneration, wrongfully convicted still face uphill battles

We have previously written about the many problems in our legal system that lead to wrongful conviction, as well as the difficulties that wrongfully convicted inmates often face after being exonerated. Wisconsin is among 30 states (plus Washington, D.C.) to offer compensation to wrongfully convicted individuals. But of these states, Wisconsin’s compensation is among the lowest offered and can be difficult to get.

Sadly, exonerees face serious obstacles after being released from prison, including fighting for compensation. And a recent PBS Newshour report shows that the amount of compensation an exoneree can expect is difficult if not impossible to predict. Some get millions while others get nothing.

As part of the report, PBS profiled four exonerees, all of whom are African-American and were exonerated through DNA testing. Perhaps the largest contrast was between two men, both from New York. The first man, who was exonerated after 16 years in prison, was compensated more than $13 million in 2011 and recently won another $41 million judgment. By contrast, another New Yorker was exonerated after 22 years in prison. He was awarded $18.5 million by a jury in 2010, but a judge reversed the ruling and he has yet to see a single penny.

In Pennsylvania, a man exonerated after 18 years in prison was offered nothing. Pennsylvania has no exoneree compensation laws. He now lives on $700 a month in Social Security.

A Texas man, exonerated after 27 years, received about $2.13 million. Texas has an interesting relationship with wrongful conviction, to put it nicely. It has among the highest rates of wrongful conviction in the United States, yet offers significant compensation quickly after exoneration. An exoneree can expect to receive $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars.

According to the Innocence Project, exonerees often have to wait an average of three years before they see any compensation money, if they are ever compensated at all. This is in spite of the fact that every case of wrongful conviction is a serious miscarriage of justice and a severe violation of a person’s Constitutional rights.

When will compensation reform become a national priority? Or even a priority in Wisconsin?

Source: PBS Newshour, “Four wrongfully convicted men, four very different outcomes,” Saskia De Melker, Nov. 9, 2014

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