The price paid for wrongful convictions can be quantified in some ways, and in other ways it cannot. Years lost in prison due to a wrongful conviction can be measured and compensated in some ways, but there is nothing that can replace lost time.
According to a new report by the University of California at Berkeley School of Law and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, California has paid an estimated $282 million in taxpayer money due to wrongful convictions in our state.
Wrongful convictions can occur in many ways, regardless of whether the defendant was factually guilty or factually innocent. The most obvious wrongful conviction may be when an innocent person is found guilty of a crime. But a wrongful conviction can occur when a factually guilty individual is denied a fair trial or the conviction is secured as a result of procedural violations.
This particular report, “Criminal Injustice,” examined cases in which the person was convicted of a felony, which was later reversed by an appellate court, and the case was ultimately dismissed or the defendant was acquitted after a subsequent trial.
The report found 692 cases in California that fit this criterion between 1989 and 2013. As a consequence of those cases, the report found that there were over 1800 legal settlements for an estimated total of $135 million. Factoring in the cost of incarceration, trials, and appeals, the cost rises almost another $150 million.
Wrongful convictions may be caused by a number of factors, and some of the most common include police or prosecutorial misconduct, flawed forensic science, mistaken eyewitness identification, false confessions, and ineffective defense counsel. According to the report, prosecutorial misconduct was the error associated with the most costly wrongful convictions, resulting in a loss of $53 million for incarceration costs, legal fees, and settlements.
Our criminal justice system is not a perfect institution, as reports like this remind us. However, hopefully as a result of this report and others like it, our awareness about these kinds of issues will lead to changes and improvements.
Ronald G. Brower is a criminal defense attorney in Orange County California. He has represented individuals charged with a range of crimes over the course of his career.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.