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Wrongful conviction and the laws regarding financial compensation

We have previously written about the importance of Wisconsin's criminal DNA database, as well as some of the legal challenges associated with it. For law enforcement, DNA evidence is often the fastest and most accurate way to solve sex crimes, murders and other violent offenses.

For the accused, especially those with a previous criminal record, the DNA database provides protection against wrongful conviction and wrongful imprisonment. In fact, over the last few years, hundreds of wrongfully convicted individuals around the country have been exonerated by DNA evidence. Unfortunately, some had already spent decades in prison before they could be proven innocent.

Most of us can't even imagine the sense of injustice we would feel if we lost 20 years or more for crimes we didn't commit. So when wrongfully convicted individuals are finally set free, they deserve more than just an apology. It stands to reason that they are entitled to financial compensation.

Wisconsin is one of approximately 27 states with laws allowing compensation in these cases. However, the compensation offered is largely inadequate. According to the Innocence Project's website, a victim of wrongful conviction/imprisonment in Wisconsin can receive a maximum of $25,000, unless the Claims Board successfully petitions the legislature for more money. Considering that this is less than the average person makes in a year, the gesture would seem empty to someone who lost 10-20 years behind bars.

A victim of wrongful conviction in Washington State is advocating for a bill that would allow those in his situation to receive $50,000 for each year that they were wrongfully imprisoned. In his case, DNA evidence finally exonerated him in 2010 after he spent 17 in prison; wrongfully convicted of rape.

He lost more than just time while in prison. He missed the childhoods of his 3 kids, who are now grown and essentially remain strangers. Upon his release, he was also given a bill for $50,000 in overdue child support accrued during his time in prison.

The hardships he now faces are not unique. Others victims of wrongful imprisonment often face similar challenges, as well as the difficulty of readjusting to life outside of prison.

Perhaps it is time to follow this man's lead and advocate for stronger compensation laws here in Wisconsin. What do readers think?

Source: NY Daily News, "Man who served 17 years in prison for rape he didn't commit inspires Washington state bill to compensate wrongfully imprisoned $50,000 per year," David Knowles, Feb. 18, 2013

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