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The Cost of Wrongful Convictions

By: , Posted on: August 21, 2013

The financial connection between wrongful convictions and the costs to taxpayers is a fairly new topic for media discussion. It is rather localized (a $10 million civil award 2013 case from Chicago) in information as nationwide statistics do not appear be determined in the regional media coverage of revelations on what taxpayers are ultimately spending. The above claim is only for civil costs plus any resulting exoneree compensation package. The amounts do NOT cover for the costs in obtaining the original conviction (add the defense costs) or the costs for the DA post-conviction objections to the exoneration litigation in criminal court. The available expenditure data in Illinois stands as a window into this arena of costs (Illinois $214 million cost [up to 2011] for 85 exoneration cases; a Texas $61 million compilation because of 89 exonerations). This information also stands in stark opposition to culpable prosecutors’ assurances of infallibility. In a quote from the AP via HuffPost:

“Counties such as San Bernardino in California and Bexar County in Texas are heavily populated, yet seemingly have no exonerations, a circumstance that the academics say cannot possibly be correct.”

The list of erroneous convictions available at the National Registry of Exonerations contains over 1000 cases within the US. There are legislative statutes in some states that compensate innocent people for their years in prisons. Where compensation does exist, newer statutes allow compensation rates ranging from $50,000 to $75,000 per each year incarceration. A large minority of states do not compensate via legislation. This creates years of litigation in civil courts for the exonerated. Successful cases generally result in awards in millions of dollars. Hence, the advocates of statutory relief for the wrongfully convicted seem to have a reasonable solution. The political, media and law enforcement processes in establishing a state-by-state movement towards compensation are worth following.

Updates on research, cases and costs from the Internet:

  • Current legal costs to a county in Texas for Michael Morton’s exoneration (principally the costs to convict the RIGHT person after Morton’s release has been reported. It stands at $158,000. This figure has now been doubled by court documents.
  • “In half of the 873 exonerations studied in detail, the most common factor leading to false convictions was perjured testimony or false accusations. Forty-three percent of the cases involved mistaken eyewitness identification, and 24 percent of the cases involved false or misleading forensic evidence.” Nat’l Registry of Exonerations 5/12/12
  • “On TV, an exoneration looks like a singular victory for a criminal defense attorney, ‘but there’s usually someone to blame for the underlying tragedy, often more than one person, and the common culprits include defense lawyers as well as police officers, prosecutors and judges. In many cases, everybody involved has egg on their face,’ according to the report.” AP via the HuffPost.


About Michael Bowers:

Michael Bowers

C. Michael Bowers, DDS, JD is a practicing forensic dentist and consultant who has testified and worked on hundreds of cases where dental evidence has been involved. He is a Senior Crime Scene Analyst for the International Association for Identification (IAI) and has written other articles, chapters and books on forensic dentistry. He owns and operates his own dental practice in Ventura, CA.  Additionally, he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Forensic Sciences. He is author of Forensic Dental Evidence, published by Elsevier’s Academic Press in 2010, and his new book, Forensic Testimony: Science, Law and Expert Evidence will be published in October 2013.

*This article was originally posted by Dr. Michael Bowers on his own site

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Forensic Sciences

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