State Compensation For The Wrongfully Convicted Varies Wildly


The New Yorker uses the case of John Restivo of Long Island, who was awarded $18 million by a jury for his wrongful conviction and incarceration, to discuss how much the erroneously convicted should be compensated. It wasn't until the first DNA exoneration, in 1989, that most states began to seriously consider compensation. There is no consensus about the value of lost time. Missouri gives exonerees fifty dollars a day for time served, California twice that much. Massachusetts caps compensation at half a million dollars. In Maine, the limit is three hundred thousand; in Florida, it's two million. “If there's a logic to it, I haven't seen it,” said Robert Norris, a researcher at SUNY Albany.

Fifteen hundred and seventy-five people have been exonerated in the U.S. The best off are those whom University of Virginia law Prof. Brandon Garrett describes as “the ones that win the tort lottery.” These are exonerees who seek compensation through the courts, arguing that their fundamental civil rights were violated by the police or by prosecutors. In such cases, the potential damages are unlimited, but the standard of proof is high. “Police officers have qualified immunity,” says Garrett. “They can violate your constitutional rights—reasonably but not egregiously.”

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