How to handle wrongful convictions is one of the biggest debates that have been happening in the Senate and Assembly for years. The losses incurred by wrongfully convicted persons cannot be quantified. Apart from a life spent in prison, exonerees also face the loss of their family, friends, health, and even opportunities only made readily available to a free citizen. Unfortunately, even a hefty compensation fee cannot make up for what was truly lost: freedom. Despite these significant losses, the State of California hopes that the exoneration and monetary compensation of wrongfully convicted individuals will help them rebuild a stable life after their release.
According to research conducted by ACLU, more than 200 people have been wrongfully convicted and exonerated since 1989. Additionally, there are currently more than 650 convicts on death row and an estimated 2%–10% of this figure is said to be wrongfully convicted. The average time spent before exoneration is 9 years, with African Americans taking the lead in the number of wrongful convictions. What can be done to get justice for wrongful convictions?
The California Innocence Project
The California Innocence Project is a body that goes the extra mile to help exonerate wrongfully convicted people through investigating new and strong evidence of innocence. The organization mainly looks at three critical things during the life of the case:
- The evidence presented during the investigation
- How the trial was conducted, i.e., whether the defendant was efficiently represented
- Post-conviction proceedings such as DNA testing where there was none before the conviction
What the State is doing for wrongfully convicted people: Compensation Claims Process
The State of California has come a long way in ensuring that there is a strong legal system in place to help exonerees. Currently, sections 851.6, 851.8, 4900-4906, and 1485.5 of the Penal Code are the governing legislatures dealing with the claims process. Much recently, the Senate passed a Bill 269 where wrongfully convicted individuals can now apply to the California State board seeking restitution and includes those who have been proven innocent with newly discovered evidence.
But even before exonerees can receive their compensation from the state board, they would need to complete the process of filing their claims which are listed below:
- Exonerees wishing to file their claims should do so within two years before their release.
- If the Board approves the claim through satisfactory evidence of innocence presented, the Board would go ahead and recommend to the state legislature for the provision of compensation.
- The recommendation will then be included in the appropriations bill.
- The bill would then have to be voted on by a committee consisting of both Assembly and Senate members.
- Once passed by the legislature, the governor will then sign the bill, and the claim would be issued to the exoneree from the State’s general fund. Once the compensation is approved, exonerees may receive pay equal to $140 of each day they spent in wrongful incarceration, including jail time.
Luckily, there is an increasing trend of exonerations in the country, with California leading with more than 120 releases since 1989. With these figures, it seems that more than half of those wrongfully convicted may still be in jail cells with the hopes that someone may help them bring their incarceration to an end. Criminal Defense Hero Don Hammond believes in an equal justice system and goes the extra mile to help wrongfully incarcerated individuals regain their freedom. Were you wrongfully convicted? Do you have a loved one that needs help getting his or her life back on track after a wrongful conviction? Call or chat with us today.