Being falsely convicted and spending years, perhaps decades, behind bars for a crime that you did not commit is possibly one of the most terrifying things that can happen to a person. Today, we thankfully have DNA evidence and a system that recognizes second chances for people when new evidence is presented showing innocence.
However, that still does not mean that innocent people do not languish in jail for years, waiting for the legal system to recognize the science that proves their innocence. When they are ultimately shown to have been falsely imprisoned, the road to obtain compensation for those lost years can be long and difficult.
Wrongful Imprisonment can be Devastating
Someone who has been falsely imprisoned has lost years of compensation they would have earned if they were free and working. They may have missed years that could have been used schooling or gaining experience in their jobs.
Even though they may now be free and exonerated, their (inaccurate and undeserved) criminal history may make it difficult to find work. Some may be released from prison far beyond retirement age, with shattered family lives, or without the basic skills to handle their lives or finances.
Obtaining Compensation for Victims is Difficult
That is why states have historically recognized the rights of those who are falsely imprisoned to obtain compensation for the years they spent behind bars.
But Maryland’s system has historically been different, requiring a pardon from the governor to obtain any compensation, regardless of what a court decides.
That means that even if a judge found that you were wrongly convicted and overturned your sentence, or even if the state admitted that it made a mistake and allowed your release, it still requires the governor to give you an official pardon.
That process could take a long time, and it often never comes, as politics get in the way. Politicians often fear the public perception of pardoning people, even those who are wrongly convicted. In Maryland, of 25 people who were freed after a wrongful conviction, only three have received a pardon since 1991.
However, Maryland’s laws have recently changed, and a governor’s pardon is no longer required.
Compensation Varies and is Uncertain
Maryland still does not have a clear method of compensation, unlike some states that will compensate victims a set amount per day or year they were wrongly imprisoned.
Maryland’s compensation system is run on a case-by-case basis—but that is still better than many states which have no statutes providing for compensation for the wrongfully imprisoned at all.
Many states even prohibit compensation if the victim contributed to his or her own wrongful conviction, for example, if he or she wrongly confessed.
Past pardons in Maryland have paid about $1 mil for those imprisoned between 30 and 25 years, to about $16,000 for one man imprisoned for just under a year. Unlike some states, Maryland does not provide for job training or other social services to help integrate victims back into society.
Task Force May Change Things
A task force was formed October 1 to study the issue and possibly present a set compensation system for those who are exonerated of crimes. Between that and without the need for an official pardon, those who spend time in prison wrongfully may have an easier path to get their lives back on track.
If you are wrongfully accused, the risks you face may be enormous. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your arrest or criminal charges and all possible defenses.