CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, August 7, 2006

CrimProf Adele Bernhard Discusses the Difficulty for Exonerees to be Compensated for Time Lost

BernhardFrom Pace University Law School CrimProf Adele Bernhard explains that U.S. legal procedure does not assist wrongfully convicted exonerees in receiving compensation for the time lost in prison.

Herman Atkins spent eight years in a California prison for a rape he didn't commit. When prosecutors in Riverside County realized he was the wrong man, they got a judge to release him. But the goodwill ended there -- now that Atkins is suing for compensation for his lost years, prosecutors are fighting him hard. His chances of winning any money for what the 40-year-old son of a California Highway Patrol officer calls a police frame-up that ruined much of his adult life are far from certain.

"They often have no recourse because our legal procedures don't accommodate that kind of case," said Bernhard. "If the police hit Atkins with a flashlight, that's easy," Bernhard added. "But if police action results in you getting put in jail for 20 years, the law is far behind."

The issue over what Atkins needs to show to win reflects the hazardous legal landscape facing people nationwide who have been erroneously convicted.

Just being exonerated does not automatically bring compensation: The onus is on the ex-convicts to prove their cases under a patchwork of sometimes-tough legal requirements, even in states such as California that have unjust-conviction laws.

Since DNA evidence started clearing convictions in 1989, the compensation issue has become more acute. The new technology has helped to release 144 people nationwide between 1989 and 2003, according to a University of Michigan study. But the law often leaves them and the hundreds of other wrongfully convicted defendants without any other remedy. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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