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, reports the Associated Press. Heading into Atkins’ new trial this month, prosecutors have argued that his innocence is irrelevant and should be kept from the jury. Even the DNA evidence that absolved him of the 1986 rape — evidence that showed a one in 300 billion possibility of guilt — might carry little weight.
His chances of winning any money are far from certain. 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. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia allow limited compensation, but many have tight filing deadlines, require pardons and make the exonerees prove they were “actually” innocent, as opposed to being released on a legal technicality. California allows $100 per day in compensation. But that’s after proving innocence — a challenge many cannot meet, especially when there is no DNA evidence and the government puts up opposition.