What Happens to a Convicted Individual Who is Later Exonerated?

DSC_0289Our system of law and order works pretty well, most of the time. After an arrest, it is up to the prosecutor to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the accused is the perpetrator of the crime. The defendant is entitled to be judged by his peers, and he is entitled to be represented by an attorney of his choosing during every aspect of the criminal proceedings up to and including trial of the matter; and to be able to present to the court any evidence of applicable defenses. However, sometimes there is a glitch in the system, a miscarriage of justice that results in the conviction and incarceration of an innocent person. Tragically, there are cases where a person convicted of a crime, has served years in prison for a crime he or she did not commit. The wrongfully accused can never get those years back, but may be entitled to compensation.

The State of Florida vs. Bain

In 1974, James Bain was convicted of breaking and entering, kidnapping, and rape, and was sentenced to life in prison. Bain maintained his innocence throughout, and after serving 35 years of the life sentence, his innocence was proven by DNA evidence.

In 2009, a non-profit organization, the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) offered to help Bain prove his innocence. IPF was able to convince the court to agree to allow DNA testing which proved Bain innocent of the rape. Florida vacated the sentence and Bain now has the dubious distinction of being an innocent man having served the longest time in prison for a crime he did not commit.

In Bain’s case, Florida provided him with compensation for his wrongful imprisonment. Some jurisdictions, like Florida and Illinois have enacted wrongful incarceration statutes that seek to provide compensation for innocent individuals who have served time for crimes they did not commit. Bain received $50,000 for every year he spent in prison totaling $1.7 million. See Business Insider for more on this story.

Illinois will provide compensation to individuals wrongfully convicted as follows: $85,350 to those who have been wrongfully imprisoned for five years; $170,000 for those who have been wrongfully incarcerated from between five and 14 years, and $199,150 for those who have served more than 14 years. Compensation cannot exceed these limits. Illinois will also provide job search and placement for newly released individuals.

Recently, a DeKalb County Judge vacated the conviction of Jack McCullough, who in 2012 was sentenced to life in prison for the 1947 murder of Maria, a 7-year-old girl. The case went cold until a friend of the murdered girl identified McCullough as the person who approached her and Maria the night of the child’s disappearance. Evidence has been presented to prove that McCullough, now 76 years old could not have been in Sycamore at the time of Maria’s death. See the Chicago Tribune for more on this story.

A list of states that do provide some kind of compensation for the innocent individuals wrongfully convicted, and states that do not, can be found at the Innocence Project website. The following states do not compensate individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and who have served time:  

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Washington
  • Wyoming

See Forbes.com and the Innocence Project.

Crime and punishment in America is not without its flaws. Sometimes you have “punishment” without the crime. We would like to say that the occurrence of individuals being incarcerated wrongfully does not happen that often, but sadly, it happens more often than we would like to imagine. When accused of a crime, a good defense starts with a good criminal defense attorney. If you are being accused of a crime, call the Law Offices of David Freidberg today, at (312) 560-7100, or send an email, for a no-obligation consultation.