Massachusetts has paid out $8.34 million to people wrongfully convicted of felonies under a 2004 law that allows up to $500,000 in compensation for people imprisoned on false charges, reports MassLive.com. Sixty-three people have sought compensation under the law, according to public records. Among those cases, 23 were settled for sums ranging from $60,000 to the legal maximum, and 17 are pending. Nineteen other claims were dismissed.
Massachusetts is one of about 30 states with compensation protocols for the wrongfully convicted. David Siegel, a professor at New England Law, criticized the state’s compensation cap as unfair. Some states, like Tennessee, have higher payout caps; others, like Texas, pay a set amount per year of wrongful imprisonment. Massachusetts’ $500,000 cap leads to cases where people wrongfully imprisoned for decades end up with less money than if they had spent that time working for the state’s average wage, Siegel said. Under the Massachusetts statute, wrongfully convicted prisoners must prove their innocence to receive compensation. They must first prove to a court that they are eligible for compensation, meaning that they were either granted a full pardon or had their cases overturned in a manner that “tends to establish the innocence of the individual.” Prisoners freed solely due to prosecutorial misconduct or on technicalities are not eligible for compensation.