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It is sadly true that there are people in this country who are sentenced to prison, and even death, for crimes they did not commit. Some have been exonerated and released, largely as the result of innocence projects that have helped prisoners assemble DNA evidence that shows they were not the perpetrators. Some have been exonerated years after they died in prison. Many others are no doubt never exonerated. For a wrongfully convicted person, exoneration is the end of one road but only the beginning of another. Unbelievably, exonerees starting out on the road back to society find that they get little to no help from the justice system. Offenders on parole and convicts who complete their sentences may receive more services than released persons who committed no crime at all. This Article is based on the premise that states must pay compensation to innocent persons who have suffered wrongful imprisonment. The Article explains why exoneration is not enough. It then discusses theoretical justifications that support the payment of compensation and refutes objections to making such payments. Finally, it lays out concrete ways in which states may budget for wrongful-conviction compensation statutes. Although monetary compensation can hardly make up for years of wrongful imprisonment, providing compensation is the least a state can do after an innocent person is exonerated.

Part I of this Article explains wrongful conviction terminology. Part II explains how the very same reasons that make it easy for innocent people to be convicted also make it difficult for them to be exonerated. Part III explains why governments must compensate the wrongfully incarcerated when they win their freedom. It discusses the reasons for and against government compensation, rejecting the argument that imprisoning and even executing innocent persons is a harsh but necessary cost of doing business. Part IV deals with the hard question of how to pay for wrongful-conviction compensation statutes. To ensure that wrongfully imprisoned persons actually obtain compensation, the Article makes concrete suggestions for funding compensation statutes. Wrongfully convicted persons who win their freedom deserve compensation statutes, and states can afford them.


Posted with permission.