Burden of Innocence
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Why don't exonerees get anything from the government? How can I help? Plus information on legislation in your state and links to organizations and resources.

Frequently Asked Questions
How many innocent people have been freed by DNA evidence? Why is it so hard for them to get any compensation from the state? How can I help? ...
Laws Providing Compensation for Wrongful Convictions
Only 17 jurisdictions have laws providing monetary compensation to the wrongfully convicted. Of these, the amount of compensation varies widely, from a maximum of $5,000 under federal law, to an unlimited cap in New York and West Virginia. Here's a state-by-state chart of the existing laws and the number of DNA-exonerated men in each state, plus information on pending state and federal compensation legislation.
Related Links and Readings

Organizations and Resources
The Innocence Project
Founded by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld, The Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing pro bono legal aid to inmates seeking exoneration. Using DNA evidence to challenge convictions, it has helped exonerate more than 100 men and women. The website includes case profiles of 127 exonerated individuals, as well as in-depth coverage of the multiple failures of America's criminal justice system.
Center on Wrongful Convictions
The website for Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions includes in-depth profiles of dozens of wrongfully accused men and women. It also includes a full-length book (PDF format), co-authored by the center's executive director. Titled A Promise of Justice, the book chronicles the 18-year fight to free four innocent men.
Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform
The Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, an initiative of the nonprofit Justice Project, is a national movement focused on addressing flaws in the American justice system. Its website features profiles of individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and includes background on the Innocence Protection Act, which would guarantee prisoners access to DNA testing.
The After Prison Initiative
Background on the Open Society Institute's program to support successful reentry and reintegration of people returning from prison.
Articles and Stories
"No Easy Windfalls for Exonerated"
"Exonerated convicts rarely get state help as a matter of course," writes Gary Young in this December 2002 article from National Law Journal. "Alberto B. Lopez, law professor at Northern Kentucky University, recently wrote an article in the Georgia Law Review bemoaning the lack of compensation for exonerated convicts. He titled the article '$10 and a Denim Jacket,' because that's what Louisiana gave to Michael Ray Graham Jr. when he was released last year after serving 14 years on death row." (Posted on Law.com, Dec. 12, 2002)
"Reflections of the Wrongly Convicted"
"Do not get me wrong," writes Neil Miller, one of the men profiled in "Burden of Innocence," in this article from New England Law Review. "I am very, very, very happy to be out. I am happy to be back with my brother-in-law, my sister, my nieces and nephews, and even a few friends. But even though I am delighted to be back with them, I am not happy. I feel like I am homeless. I am home, but I am not really home, because I do not really know where home is." (New England Law Review, Spring 2001)
"Prosecutors Never Need to Apologize"
"Most Americans who are wrongly imprisoned have no hope of collecting damages from the public officials or agencies responsible for the mistake," writes John Tierney in The New York Times in this article on prosecutorial immunity. "... Whatever they might collect would come out of the general fund, not the budget of the prosecutors who were so determined to ignore the exculpatory evidence." (New York Times, July 27, 2001)
"Gate Money"
"People who were guilty are slightly better off once they're out; they get more resources," says Ofra Bikel, who produced "Burden of Innocence." "There's more support. There are more organizations. The exonerated ... don't get anything." For background on what individuals -- guilty or innocent -- actually do receive once they're out of prison, this interactive map from American RadioWorks is a good reference. For the companion website to its radio documentary "Hard Time: Life After Prison," it surveyed state corrections departments and asked them if they give individuals leaving prison bus fare and/or clothing, and how much "gate money" (parole money) they give them. (American RadioWorks, March 2003)
"Death Row Stories"
The website for "Testing DNA and the Death Penalty," a radio documentary produced by Boston radio station WBUR, includes profiles of death row inmates who were exonerated. It also features the first three chapters of May God Have Mercy, John C. Tucker's book about the rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman and the man convicted and executed for the crime despite grave doubts of his guilt.
"Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science"
This June 1996 report was supported by the National Institute of Justice and written by staff members of the Institute for Law and Justice in Virginia. It details 28 cases in which DNA evidence was used to exonerate prisoners, and the typical attributes of cases where exculpatory DNA evidence has been used. "As the 28 cases collected in this report demonstrate, when we subject new scientific techniques such as DNA typing to special admissibility rules, we force the courts to rely on inferior types of evidence, such as eyewitness testimony," the authors write. "In all 28 cases, without the benefit of DNA evidence, the triers of fact had to rely on eyewitness testimony, which turned out to be inaccurate."
"Serenity Now or Insanity Later?: The Impact of Post-Conviction DNA Testing on the Criminal Justice System"
The Spring 2001 issue of New England Law Review includes articles and proceedings from a symposium about DNA evidence and its effects on the criminal justice system. In one article, "Toward a Model Act for the Prevention and Remedy of Erroneous Convictions," the authors detail the major causes of erroneous convictions and summarize the various policies designed to prevent them. (New England Law Review, Spring 2001)


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published may 1, 2003

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