From today’s New York Times piece “Putting a Price on a Wrongful Conviction”:
William Gregory and David Pope were both convicted of rape. Mr. Gregory served seven years in a Kentucky prison and Mr. Pope was imprisoned by Texas for 15 years before being released because of new DNA evidence.
Mr. Gregory, 59, now lives at the edge of a golf course, in a five-bedroom house he bought with part of the $4.6 million he received in legal settlements. Mr. Pope, 46, received $385,000 from the State of Texas.
To the extent that they got money, they are among the lucky ones. Of the more than 200 people released from prison since 1989 on the basis of new DNA evidence, 38 percent have received nothing for the years they spent behind bars.
I’m not sure if Gregory was able to sue or settle with other civil defendants besides the city of Louisville, Kentucky, but it looks like that case actually settled for $3.9 million.
But why the difference in the two settlement amounts? Pope was jailed more than twice as long as Gregory.
Apparently the city of Louisville felt Gregory could make a case that there had been bad faith or intentional misconduct in his prosecution, didn’t want to take the risk of trial and settled. Pope must not have been as ‘fortunate’.
The article asks “What are those years worth?” Ultimately, the question is unanswerable. And some politicians believe that gives the State an opening to deny compensation altogether:
“Once you open up those floodgates, where do you get all the money to pay for these falsely charged people?” asked state Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone of Pennsylvania, co-chairman of that state’s House Judiciary Committee, where a compensation bill recently stalled. “How much money is it going to require? How much is a person worth?”
Good point. We can’t accurately say how much time in prison for a crime you didn’t commit is worth, and anything resembling a fair settlement will come out of the taxpayers’ pocket… so, the answer is: give them nothing.
Or perhaps, if we had a system where jurors knew that convicting the innocent could mean a few dollars out of their pocket, we wouldn’t have as big a problem in the first place.