Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

How does California help the Wrongly Imprisoned?

Posted on: February 28, 2008 at 10:44 p.m.

A recent study focuses on how the state of California deals with those people who were sent to prison, and were later exonerated.

A reviewing commission concluded that California does a poor job of compensating people wrongfully convicted in its courts. Men and women imprisoned for years, even decades, for crimes they didn't commit are offered fewer benefits than convicts released on parole.

Exonerated prisoners "face many difficult obstacles to full restoration of their rights and liberties, and the compensation they receive for their losses is frequently inadequate," said the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a state body chaired by former California Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp that has been studying the problem of wrongful convictions.

The commission, which includes prosecutors, defense lawyers, law professors and law enforcement officials, recommended a number of reforms, including giving wrongly convicted men and women state assistance in locating housing, a cash allowance, clothing and employment counseling. But the proposals would hardly open the floodgates. The compensation, "should be limited to those who have been found innocent of the crime or crimes for which they were convicted and imprisoned, not because of procedural errors in their trials," the panel said.

The commission also recommended that:

* Exonerated prisoners be permitted two years rather than six months to file compensation claims.

* The maximum compensation be increased from $36,500 to $50,000 for every year of incarceration.

* People who gave false confessions or forced guilty pleas be allowed to seek a court determination of factual innocence, the gateway to compensation.

* The deadline for a wrongfully convicted person to sue his trial lawyer for malpractice should be pushed back. The commission said the recent case of Peter Rose, who was wrongfully convicted of the kidnap and rape of a 13-year old girl in November 1995, demonstrates the need for this reform.

Rose's conviction was vacated in October 2004 after he was exonerated by DNA testing. He filed a complaint against his original defense lawyer, alleging that the lawyer's negligence contributed to his wrongful conviction. But the suit was dismissed because it was not filed within the statute of limitations, "even though the court conceded that he could not have recovered on his claim until his conviction had been vacated," the commission report said. Rose is one of 15 wrongfully convicted individuals who have been compensated by the state. The state has denied 25 claims and dismissed an additional 19 because they were untimely, incomplete or the claimant had not been released from prison.

Commissioners also recommended that the state resume funding for the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University Law School and the California Innocence Project at Cal Western Law School in San Diego, the primary legal groups in the state fighting to overturn wrongful convictions.

The Legislature in 2001 allocated $1.6 million over two years to provide lawyers to assist inmates with innocence claims. The legal assistance funding was eliminated in 2003 because of state budget cuts.

To date, the two Innocence Projects "have succeeded in helping to exonerate 11 people, two based on DNA evidence and nine on other grounds. Each exoneration has saved the state the cost of housing an innocent person," the commission said. The group also pointed out that the 1996 exoneration of Kevin Green, an Orange County man who spent more than 15 years in prison for the assault on his wife and murder of their unborn child, led to the conviction of the real murderer and rapist.

The report said the two Innocence Projects are now actively investigating 288 cases and have a backlog of 700 cases.

Tagged as: federal law and defense


Ipour14u on September 4, 2009 at 8:13 a.m. wrote:

Being a victim of this personally, I can say that the trauma never goes away. I was falsley arrested in October 2007, by (1) Kern County Sheriff. I was taken to 3 different jails in Kern County California. I only spent 5 days in jail, but those 5 days were horrific. The deputies made sexual comments to me, at any moment I thought that I was going to be raped by the deputies. The conditions were terrible. During my false incarceration my ex husband recieved full custody of my children, he recieved exclusive use of our family home, and cars etc. (By the way, my ex husband was responsible for making these false charges on me) He was upset with me because I asked him for a divorce. It took me 8 months to get exhonerated, which I was exhonerated. It cost me $79,000.00 in legal fees, I lost my home, which was worth $365,000.00 . 2 cars, my children, every single thing I owned, including my toothbrush. I had owned my own company, which I lost because my ex husband had my equipment. I was made virtually homeless. The only thing that was said to me by the judge I'm sorry you went to jail on false charges, you shouldnt have. Its been almost 2 years now, I finally have joint custody of my children. I was never compensated for my time, my loss of my home, belongings etc. And sorry doesnt cut it. I am now forced into a different lifestyle. While I was incarcerated I had to become gang affiliated for my safety. My life is still a nightmare. It never gets any better. The emotional trauma will never heal. I dont trust law enforcement, and it has caused damage that can never be repaired. Someone should be held accountable. I have until October to file a lawsuit against Kern County. I dont even know where to begin. After I was cleared of these charges, nothing happened to my ex husband for filing false charges. He should have been charged with a felony. This has ruined my life, and the lives of my children. Thanks Kern County! What a great, safe place to live.

Peggy Li on May 31, 2008 at 8:32 p.m. wrote:

It's scary to think that you could get convicted of something you did not do. Seeing the number of cases that this group has to look back through makes me question our trial system. Our trial system is supposed to be fair and it is supposed to convict criminals and let the innocent go. I feel that in a lot of these cases, the prosecution evoked emotions in the juror by having the juror sympathize with victims and seeing the defendant as a monster. When we hear that a man is convicted of a terrible crime we also naturally assume that they are innocent despite the claim that you are 'innocent until proven guilt.' We need to change our trial system by making sure that they base their convictions on facts, not speculation, and also that these facts are accurate. By having a different forensics team look at DNA and evidence, you can find out if your evidence is accurate or tainted. We also need to change society's perception of those on trial. We automatically see someone on trial as guilty until proven innocent. By publicizing the fact that there are so many individuals who are wrongfully convicted, we can give knowledge to the public that shows that just because you are on trial does not mean you are guilty. These people need to be compensated for all the years that they have been imprisoned and the lives that we have taken away from them. These individuals lost friends and family because if the wrongful conviction. They need to start all over again and we need to do whatever we can to assist them because they did nothing wrong, the system messed up on them.

Kelsey Kernstine on May 29, 2008 at 3:20 p.m. wrote:

I cannot imagine going to jail for something I did not do. This is awful to think that people are going to jail or punished for something they did not do. It just goes to show that maybe there are problems with our trial system. Honestly, if I was put in jail for something I did not do, I would expect compensation. I would expect something back in return. These people that are put in prison are being punished for something they did not do, and to me, they should be compensated as much as possible. How are these people supposed to go back out and get a job? How are these people supposed to go back to what they did before? This is our trial system and jury system

Name Withheld on May 26, 2008 at 9:13 a.m. wrote:

My son moved to California from Texas six months ago and, following a recent accident in which a friend of his received a very minor injury, my son was put into the Santa Ana Central Jail. Every effort by the friend and by my son to clear up law enforcement's misunderstanding of the incident has been quashed. As a result, California has accused my son of a felony. As a result, California will not listen to his friend. As a result, California has determined they know what is best for each individual and will control them accordingly. Subsequently, my son (who has glaucoma and is not familiar with jail violence) has been abused by other inmates. Another fine disaster in the making.

Jimmy Ziadat on April 24, 2008 at 2:38 p.m. wrote:

Our system of justice puts forth effort to prevent wrongful convictions. Courts attempt to achieve this by reminding jurors that they should only convict if they are convinced 'beyond a reasonable doubt'. This is why the burden of proof, or onus probandi as it is known, lies with the prosecution. Of course the system is not foolproof an at times people are wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. This unfortunate scenario costs the state money by having to incarcerates the defendant, but costs the defendant more dearly: time behind bars. The state is often left facing law suits. Neil Miller, a wrongfully convicted man sued the city of Boston and won $3.2 million. I believe it is necessary to provide those services which help wrongfully convicted individuals put their lives back together and the fact that such a program was eliminated in 2003 due to budget cuts is disturbing. It is important to give such services or else cities will continue to pay out such large sums of money to wrongfully convicted people.

Ruchi Banka on April 24, 2008 at 12:05 p.m. wrote:

Although compensating those who were wrongfully convicted is very important and necessary, I think it is even more important to attempt to focus on the reason why these wrongful convictions were made in the first place. Is our system making decisions to quickly without proper evidence? Are there certain aspects of the system that need alteration? Are lawyers not doing their best to gather evidence proving their client?s innocence or are there circumstances that occur beyond one?s control? I agree with Kyle that our system is doing well with a relatively low exoneration rate and that no system is perfect, but I believe even more should be done to reduce that number as a whole. Not only by wrongly convicting a person are you taking away time they could have spent with family, fulfilling their goals, or forming treasured memories from certain periods of their life, but you are also harming the safety of the population as a whole by allowing those who are actually guilty of the crime to still be free. As those who are actually guilty of the crime are still on the streets, they can cause even more crime and damage. Therefore, I think we should take a step back and realize why people are being wrongfully convicted and eventually strive to reach a time when we can eliminate compensations altogether because there will be no need.

Kyle Reilly on April 19, 2008 at 9:17 p.m. wrote:

It really is sad to see our trial and jury system fail our citizens of this country. However, no system is perfect and having a relatively low exoneration rate is good, but the system needs to be reformed to never allow innocent people to be punished and imprisoned without a definitive doubt that the person is guilty. One

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