We'd like to believe that everyone who ends up in jail deserves it. After all, there are safeguards in place - a professional police force to investigate, an impartial judge to oversee the case, and a jury of peers to review the evidence. Unfortunately, sometimes the accused's protestations of innocence are true and not just a hardened criminal's routine stance.
So it is that, after years, even decades, newly discovered evidence or newly uncovered corruption leads to freedom for a wrongfully accused inmate. Now free, even with a cleared record, means that the inmate has lost possibly years in the workforce, in relationships, and in living. Is there any way to make up for that?
The answer is most probably, no, there is no way to truly make up for time undeservedly served. And there isn't even a consistent scheme established for some sort of restitution. But, our legal system does at least offer the chance to recover damages in a civil suit. The possible causes of action include wrongful conviction, false imprisonment, or wrongful arrest. And the result of these? Often a settlement or verdict that can at least start to address the monetary aspect of the damage done.
The existing cases show the broad range of damages recovered by these former inmates: After serving 17 years for a double murder and arson before release, one plaintiff obtained a $2.5 million settlement agreement with state police defendants after exculpatory evidence was revealed that had been suppressed by the prosecution. See 2011 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 201475.
After principle witness recants testimony, man obtains $2 million settlement against state for wrongful conviction. See 2012 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 13953. Former juvenile prisoner obtains $25 million settlement with City of Chicago and police officers after serving more than 16 years for conviction based on police officers' false testimony against him when he was 13 years old. 1 Exp. Wit. 101463. After serving 14 years for a murder conviction, a former inmate obtains $14 million verdict against police officer that tampered with witness. 2009 Jury Verdicts LEXIS 437454.
Certainly the variation in these awards shows that there is no exact formula for reaching a reasonable compensation amount for wrongful conviction. This may be because there is not exact science to calculate the price of freedom. But, for those with a chance to prove it, this method at least offers the chance to obtain some financial freedom as they attempt to restart their lives.
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