Is California’s compensation for wrongful conviction fair?

Did you know that only 30 states, including California and the District of Columbia, have passed laws that grant compensation payments to people who have served time in prison because of wrongful convictions? This may seem surprising especially when one considers the serious impact a conviction can have on a person’s life.

Not only do convictions affect a person’s employment but even a short sentence can take that person away from their family. In many cases, this can create rifts between family members that may be difficult to mend. Most people believe that the criminal justice system should be held accountable for these damages, awarding compensation to an individual as a way of apologizing for the mistake. Here in California, the apology comes in the form of “$100 per day spent in prison — with an annual maximum of $36,500.”

Though this amount may seem reasonable to most, when compared to other states, this amount is far below the average. In some states, such as in Texas, the annual maximum is $80,000, which far exceeds the federal standard which awards $50,000 per year spent in prison for federal crimes and $100,000 per year spent on death row.

Many exonerees are disappointed when they are released because they receive little more than a “you’re free to go.” Those who fight for compensation are met with a complex set of laws that have specific requirements about who may receive compensation and for what amount. Without the help of a skilled criminal defense lawyer it may be difficult to understand what laws apply in what situation.

Although many of our readers are grateful that our state provides compensation in the event of a wrongful conviction, the amount awarded to exonerees may not seem fair. This is something our state legislature may want to consider, especially if they want to continue providing justice to the accused.

Source: The Los Angeles Times, “Wrongfully Convicted Inmates Fight for Compensation,” Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Dec. 20, 2014

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