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Jun 29

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Insult to Injury

My law school runs a program called the Innocence Project, which aims to release inmates from prison who have been wrongly convicted. Among the many people that the Innocence Project has freed is a man by the name of Timothy Akins in 2007.   What most people do not realize is that the battle for innocence does not end with a trial court’s order to release an inmate.  Instead, the second battle begins: to collect state compensation.

According to the California Penal Code, a person who is wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in state prison for a felony is owed $100 for each day that he spent behind bars.  In Mr. Atikins case, no less than $713,000 for 23 years behind bars.

Unfortunately, only 18.6% of the claims for compensation are actually granted, the remainder are denied.  This is because the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board in Sacramento does not take the trial judge’s decision at face value.  Rather, the rules governing the Board under Penal Code section 4903 require them to act like a trier of fact by scrutinizing the evidence presented to them by the Attorney General and the former inmate.

If the Board’s burden of proof was higher than the trial court’s, perhaps it would make sense to conduct new fact-finding.  However, the opposite is true: the burden of proof is lower- the evidence must show the defendant is innocent by a preponderance of evidence or it is more likely than not; whereas, the trial court must conclude that the newly discovered evidence “completely undermines the entire structure of the case presented by the prosecution” and must “point unerringly” to innocence.  (Ex Parte Lindley, 29 Cal. 2d, 709, 724 (1947).)

To avoid the intense scrutiny by the Board and the 81.4% failure rate, some counsel advise their clients to go to civil court where the odds are better and they can even win a higher amount of compensation.  For example, Mr. Goldstein who spent 24 years on prison won $8 million from the City of Long Beach.  The disadvantage, however, is that clients must target a specific defendant such as a prosecutor or officer who subverted justice and this is difficult to do.

What are your thoughts about California’s victim compensation process?

  • Should a person who has been wrongly convicted have to go through another mini-trial to prove he is entitled to compensation?
  • Or, should the Board automatically accept the trial court’s findings?
  • Better yet, should victim compensation  be run the same way that victim restitution is when a person suffers an injury as a result of a crime?  In this case, the trial court acts quasi civil by conducting what is called a restitution hearing and determines the amount that should be paid to the victim to make them whole again.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.weismanlawyers.com/insult-to-injury/

1 comment

  1. Ross

    I recognize this is different– capital punishment– but your post made me think of this:
    http://www.theexonerated.com/

    Thanks for this blog!
    It’s great!

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