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Can You Get Compensation For a Wrongful Conviction?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

What is the price tag on a life unlived because you were wrongfully convicted for a crime you didn't commit?

For Juan Rivera, who sued after spending 18 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn't do, that price was $20 million. This is the largest settlement ever in U.S. history to compensate a person for a wrongful conviction. In 2012, a jury awarded a Chicago man even more, $25 million, for his wrongful conviction.

If you've been wrongfully convicted, here is what you need to know about getting compensation for your lost time:

Can You Get Compensation For a Wrongful Conviction?

Thirty states and the federal government have statutes requiring the government to compensate people who were wrongfully convicted. The federal government provides for $50,000 for each year spent in prison, and $100,000 for each year spent on death row. California's statute provides a maximum of $100 per day spent in prison after a conviction. Florida allows for $50,000 annually with a maximum of only $2 million, regardless of time served. However, Florida also provides 120 hours of free tuition at a college or university.

According to the Innocence Project, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming do not have any statutes requiring compensation.

This does not mean that people who were wrongfully convicted in these states cannot seek any compensation. Exonerees could still sue in state court for wrongful conviction or lobby the legislature for a private compensation bill.

What Could Hurt Your Claim?

In some states you may not be eligible for compensation if you:

  1. Contributed to your wrongful conviction -- In some states such as California, the District of Columbia, and Iowa, you are ineligible for compensation if you pleaded guilty or falsely confessed to the crime.
  2. Have been convicted of another felony -- In Florida, you cannot receive any compensation if you have any prior felony convictions, even if those convictions are entirely unrelated to your wrongful conviction.
  3. Are convicted of a new felony -- In Alabama, you can only receive compensation if the legislature specifically approves your claim, and you lose all claims to compensation if you are subsequently convicted of a different felony.

How Much Can You Get?

The amount of money that an exoneree can get for a wrongful conviction varies wildly, even in states that have statutes regarding wrongful conviction compensations.

In California, a successful claim to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (the Board) can earn an exoneree $100 per day, or $36,500 per year. However, one California man sued the City of Long Beach in civil court instead of filing a claim with the Board. He spent 24 years in prison, and settled for $7.95 million. This equals over $900 per day, much more than provided for in the statute.

If you've been wrongfully convicted and exonerated, an experienced criminal attorney may be able to help you get compensation.

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