The California Innocence Project reported that wrongful convictions had cost the taxpayers of the state approximately 129 million dollars from 1989 to 2013. It is further estimated that there had been at least 200 wrongful convictions in that time span. The obvious high cost was staggering and the economic impact to the state and its residents was undeniable, especially to the state’s fiscal budget crisis.
The data compiled took into consideration state and federal criminal convictions in California that were dismissed or overturned and resulted in acquittal. The data also reflected the results of official misconduct in civil damages.
Research conducted by the California Wrongful Convictions Project, launched by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Berkeley Law) and Hollway Advisory Services, found that the reasons for the wrongful convictions consisted of 39 percent official misconduct, 48 percent perjury or false accusations, 26 percent mistaken eyewitness identification, and 19 percent due to inadequate or ineffective defense counsel. Interestingly, only about 6 percent of the wrongful convictions ended up being overturned or reversed because of DNA evidence. Of all of the crimes where individuals were wrongly convicted, the highest numbers consisted of 42 percent for murder or manslaughter and 17 percent for child sex abuse.
The data compiled also counted individuals who were framed in the Los Angeles Rampart police scandal of the late 1990s. The 53 individuals convicted accounted for 25 percent of the data’s wrongful convictions.
It was further found that approximately 40 percent of the individuals who were wrongly convicted of crimes were initially sentenced to 20, or more, years in prison. Some of those wrongly convicted during that time period received life, life without parole, or death sentences before their convictions were eventually overturned.
The 129 million dollar cost to taxpayers consisted primarily of the high cost of incarceration in state or federal prisons. The cost of publicly disclosed civil settlement and compensation was also accounted for in the final financial data estimates. The often substantial price of legal representation or the fees incurred for holding individuals under incarceration in the county jails was not taken into consideration when compiling the 129 million dollars worth of fees. If those fees were taken into consideration and added into the final data compilation, then cost to the taxpayer rises significantly to an expense of 144 million dollars or more.
Obviously, the only way to combat the rising price of wrongful convictions to the state of California’s taxpayers is to change legislation and implement changes to the state’s legal reform system. The system needs to flow more smoothly and there needs to be a reduction in the amount of time that an individual spends incarcerated as they await trail.
Researchers and legal experts suggest that the system needs to undergo systematic scrutiny to discover the loopholes and flaws that have enabled such a large number of individuals to be wrongly convicted in the state of California. Once the areas of concern are studied and better understood, then the other problems in the justice system, such as prison overcrowding and the high cost of individual incarceration, must also be examined and overhauled.
Ideally, the justice system needs to function fairly and with fewer flaws. No system is perfect, but the high numbers of wrongful convictions and substantial expense indicates a severe problem with the system that needs to be corrected.
There is also the morality of incarcerating wrongly accused individuals. It is estimated that wrongly convicted people have spent about 1,313 years in prison. Lawmakers and legislators need to also think about the fact that if an individual is wrongly convicted and incarcerated then the true criminal remains at large to perpetrate other crimes.
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