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Amanda Knox. You may have heard her name a few times in the last eight years. During that time, she was accused of murder, convicted, acquitted, convicted again, and, finally, acquitted one more time.
Now that she has finally been exonerated, Knox may be seeking compensation for the four years she spent in prison during the ordeal.
How much can she get?
Italy's Constitution guarantees compensation for wrongful imprisonment damages that arise from judicial errors. As Knox was wrongfully imprisoned in Italy, she would have to sue Italy in an Italian court for compensation. How much she will get is unclear.
In a prior case, an Italian appeal court in Genoa paid a British resident £18,000 after a wrongful arrest. This is equal to about $26,000. The money was to compensate him for his time spent in prison and the distress caused to him and his family.
Unfortunately, $26,000 doesn't seem like much, and it probably isn't even worth the fight for Knox. However, the man in that case only spent a few weeks in jail. Knox was imprisoned for four years. Her distress for being convicted and acquitted twice likely outweighs the distress the man and his family felt. If successful, she is could well be awarded more. A lot more.
In the United States, the right to compensation for a wrongful conviction is not guaranteed in the Constitution. However, 30 states and the federal government do have laws that allow for wrongful conviction compensation.
Federal law recognizes that a person on death row suffers more distress and harm than the rest of the prison population. As such, federal law specifically provides that a person who spent time on death row can receive higher compensation, up to $100K, than a person who was not on death row, up to $50K.
However, this does not mean that exonerated victims can't get more than $100K. Compensation statutes and limits vary from state to state. Marty Tankleff won a $3.4M settlement from the State of New York for 17 years of wrongful imprisonment. In Illinois, Juan Rivera was wrongfully imprisoned for 18 years. He settled his case for $20 million, the largest wrongful conviction settlement ever in the United States. Yet, in Texas, Anthony Graves also spent 18 years behind bars before he was exonerated. He only received $1.45 million under Texas' wrongful conviction statutes.
Despite attempts to make the legal system fair, people are wrongly accused and convicted all too often. Money alone will not be enough to compensate them for the fear and pain they suffered, or the years they lost.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.