Below are some of our most frequently asked questions.
Someone close to me has been wrongly convicted. What can I do?
The Innocence Project and several other organizations may be able to investigate the circumstances, especially if DNA testing is involved. Our Resources section provides helpful links. In addition, although we do not practice criminal law we may be able to refer you to an attorney who can provide assistance.
How many people have been wrongly convicted in the U.S.?
No one really knows for certain. A study conducted by the National Registry of Exonerations covering the period 1989-2012 found more than 2000 exonerations – instances in which a person was convicted of a crime but later relieved of all legal consequences of that conviction through a decision by a prosecutor, a court or a governor after new evidence of innocence was discovered – but that is just a fraction of wrongful convictions.
If my conviction has been vacated and I’ve been released from prison, am I guaranteed compensation from the state?
Unfortunately, no. Twenty-three states still do not provide compensation for people who have been wrongfully convicted. In most of the states that do provide compensation, after the wrongfully convicted person is released he or she still must file proceedings in court to obtain a ruling of “actually innocence.” Many times the state’s attorneys will oppose this effort, victimizing the wrongly convicted person yet again by requiring him or her to hire a lawyer.
How long does it take to receive compensation under a state’s compensation program?
Each of the states that provides compensation has a different statute and often a different philosophical approach to compensation. Some states work relatively quickly and cooperatively to provide compensation. Others drag the process out, fighting the wrongly convicted person’s efforts, and sometimes this battle can take several years.
How do I pay for a lawyer?
Most lawyers who represent wrongly convicted people recognize that an individual has just been released from prison often has few, if any, financial resources to hire a lawyer to obtain compensation. As a result, in most instances the individual can afford an attorney only if the attorney agrees to provide representation on a contingency fee basis.
Can I sue someone for my wrongful conviction in addition to seeking money under a state compensation program?
Sometimes, depending on the circumstances. In some situations, the wrongful conviction occurred as a result of misconduct by a police officer or forensic investigator and the conduct resulted in a violation of the person’s constitutional rights. In those instances, a lawsuit can be filed under federal law – in addition to or instead of a claim being filed under a state compensation statute – to recover damages.