Compensation for the Wrongly Convicted

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.

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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Windypundit - December 3, 2007 11:03 AM

Sigh.

Let's say you hire me to build you a big new web site, to be delivered on June 1st, but I don't deliver it until August 20th. It might be hard for you you to prove specific business damages from the late delivery.

Fortunately, contract lawyers solved this a long time ago: Liquidated damages. We simply write the damage calculation into the contract. Say, $25/day for late delivery. Vague damages problem solved!

This being criminal law, there's no contract (unless you make it part of the plea bargain...) but that's where the legislature comes in. Solving these kinds of problems is why we have elected representatives.

As for Rep. Caltagirone's befuddlement about how to value the time spent in prison...How did the legislature figure out how much time these guys should spend in jail for rape? That's at least as difficult a question.

Criminal Defense Lawyers - February 15, 2008 1:03 AM

In my opinion there is no amount of compensation to make a person whole for being wrongfully convicted in a criminal case.

annette fentress - October 12, 2008 12:05 AM

Sometimes its obvious when the police do not do there job, and when you have evidence they won't listen to. My son has spent more that 4 years in jail for a crime he did not comment, and the man who did it has confessed, he does not know my son, and has just named his partner who was involved also. He's waiting on the attorney general to finish there on investigation. chesapeake, va. Was supposed to be mistaken id, but the victim was buying drugs, and it was dilberate, so they would not know what he was doing.

annette fentress - October 12, 2008 12:10 AM

What if the victim was involved in illegal purchase of drugs, and does not id the correct person,on purpose which would tell what he was doing, my son was wrongfully accused. Chesapeake, va

Blaise - May 23, 2011 8:08 AM

I have charged & held on remand for over 6 months for a crime I did not commit. I now lost contact with my children, lost goods & earnings. I now suffer from depression & I am currently leaving in a room. What can I do

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