Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wrongful convictions - righful compensation

Wrongful conviction and rightful exoneration

A person has been convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Later he is found to be innocent (IP) after all. Should the IP be able to sue the government to obtain the compensation for time in jail, - reputation squandered, years gone and money never made. For example, in 2004, Wilton Dedge from Florida spend 22 years in prison for a rape and burglary that he did not commit. After he was exonerated, he was awarded 2 million as a settlement by the state, only after a private bill was passed. (http://www.thejusticeproject.org/national-agenda/wilton-dedges-story/)

There are two issues in to the case. Should IP be able to sue the government? Should IP be able to get compensation? They are separate and distinct inquiry.

First, should IP be able to sue? Under normal circumstances, barring foul play, the common law afford the prosecutor an absolute immunity in doing his work. “When a prosecutor performs “advocative” conduct, that is, he “act[s] within the scope of his duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution,” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409, 410 (1976), he is absolutely immune from suit”, including whether and how to conduct a prosecution.

Second, should a IP receive compensation for wrongful conviction and punishment?
A legal commentator has made this remark:

“This would be a fascinating issue to take on in a research article. Which mechanism is better suited to provide appropriate compensation -- private litigation by the exonerated prisoner or compensation scheduled by the legislature? Might there best be a hybrid of private litigation and a minimum amount of scheduled compensation? Ought there to be, instead, a governmental commission to evaluate each case individually? And how ought damages to be determined? (Law & Econ Prof Blog, December 7, 2007).

The Innocent Project thinks the wrongfully convicted should be compensated by law, without further action on their own. I agree.

“Those proven to have been wrongfully convicted through postconviction DNA testing spend, on average, 12 years behind bars. The agony of prison life and the complete loss of freedom are only compounded by the feelings of what might have been, but for the wrongful conviction. Deprived for years of family and friends and the ability to establish oneself professionally, the nightmare does not end upon release. With no money, housing, transportation, health services or insurance, and a criminal record that is rarely cleared despite innocence, the punishment lingers long after innocence has been proven. States have a responsibility to restore the lives of the wrongfully convicted to the best of their abilities.” (http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Compensating_The_Wrongly_Convicted.php)

I am quick to add the follow reasons why the government should pay comepsation for IPs imprisonment/punishment:

(1) IP is found innocent in a court of law. The mistake made must be recognized, publicly: legally, morally and economically, especially in a legalistic (constitutional democracy), moralistic (Christian nation), capitalistic society (money talk), like ours.

(2) The state benefited from rigorous criminal prosecutions, in deterring criminals, in reducing fear. The more (and more aggressive) the prosecution, the more criminals are kept in bound. The more (and more successful) prosecution, the more the sense of
safety and security.

(3) Criminal prosecution or justice administration has hidden costs, including cost of collateral damages. The more the society aggressive prosecute the “war on crime” the more we can expect erroneous conviction due to bungled prosecution, through carelessness (e.g., lack of systematic and comprehensive investigation), mistakes (e.g., mis-identification, wrong DNA report) or fraud (e.g., fabricated or hiding of evidence). This applies equally to war of all kinds, “war on terror” comes to mind.

(4) The payouts to IP would (and should) reflect the true cost of justice (mal)administration. Compensation to IP would show the taxpayers that justice is neither free nor cheap.

(5) The public – legislator – state can make better judgment in criminal justice system design, policy and operations if the true costs of running the criminal justice system are recognized and documented.

(6) The law enforcers (police, prosecutor, judges) must be held accountable to the proper execution of the law. The monetary awards an now be used as a yardstick for poor justice administration, per individual or office, for institutional comparison or personal accountability purposes.

(7) The state should be as aggressive in pursuing criminals as it is in clearing IP names.

(8) IP should be made whole, automatically and completely, i.e., return to the position before the conviction, without doing more. This means that IP should compensated for shame, economic loss, pain and suffering behind bars.

(9) The state has the duty and responsibility to fix a wrongful conviction, as part of justice administration. To pursue justice is to right ALL wrongs by the criminals as well as with the state.

(10) The public should be responsible for paying for “mistakes” made in the delivery of justice. The IP should not bear the burden of miscarriage of justice.


Court: Exonerated inmate doesn't get $14 million March 28, 2011

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has overturned a $14 million judgment given to a former death row inmate who accused New Orleans prosecutors of withholding evidence in order to help convict him of murder.

John Thompson had successfully sued the district attorney's office, arguing that former District Attorney Harry Connick showed deliberate indifference by not providing adequate training for assistant district attorneys.

Prosecutors did not turn over a crime lab report that indicated Thompson's blood type did not match the perpetrator in an attempted robbery in 1985. Prosecutors used that conviction to get the death penalty in another case Thompson was involved in.

Prosecutors normally have immunity for their actions while working, but Thompson had convinced a jury there had not been enough training on evidence handling. The court overturned that decision.

Here is the investigation that crack the case for the defense.

John HollwayUpdated , “This week at the Supreme Court: Can a man exonerated of capital murder sue the prosecutor who convicted him?” Slate, Oct. 5, 2010. http://www.slate.com/id/2269765/

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