What Can You Expect From Wrongful Incarceration Compensation

February 2, 2023

A wrongful conviction and imprisonment should never happen. Not only should you be exonerated for crimes you did not commit, but the state should compensate you for the injustice you endured. Wrongful incarceration compensation is one way the state can begin to make amends for its mistakes. A civil rights lawyer who understands wrongful incarceration can offer you invaluable legal services as you lodge your civil lawsuit against the state.

Compensation Laws Explained

There are three ways exonerees can receive compensation, depending on their state.

  • State statutes can provide compensation for wrongful incarceration. The statutes vary between states but outline the qualifications for compensation. No-fault statutes mean the exoneree need not prove the state acted unlawfully to cause the wrongful conviction. They need only to demonstrate their innocence, as laid out by the statute. Most statutes require the crime to be a felony. Some statutes bar claimants who contributed to their conviction by pleading guilty. Other statutes have rarer requirements, such as a gubernatorial pardon or no prior felonies.
  • Civil lawsuits can be filed to allege that state actors engaged in misconduct that violated the exoneree's federal rights and resulted in wrongful incarceration. You can file these lawsuits in federal or state courts. Some court cases allege state torts, such as wrongful imprisonment, malicious prosecution, or attorney malpractice.
  • A private bill is the rarest form of compensation. Sometimes state legislators pass laws that grant compensation to a specific individual. As more states adopt state compensation statutes, these private bills have become even less common.

Currently, 35 states and Washington D.C. pay compensation to exonerated individuals. However, Pennsylvania is not currently one of those states. House Bill 2794 would amend Titles 42 and 61 to compensate wrongfully convicted individuals. 

Wrongful incarceration compensation is a serious issue. Across the U.S., the courts exonerated 161 people in 2021. Each lost an average of 11.5 years in their time behind bars.

Additionally, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act) has an exclusion laid out under section 139F of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). This exclusion allows a wrongfully incarcerated person to exclude any restitution, civil damages, or other compensatory award related to their incarceration from their income. This is often referred to as the Wrongful Incarceration Exclusion.

How Much Are Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensated?

Different states offer different compensation amounts. Many states will pay a flat rate per year of incarceration.

Take the following states' compensation rates based on their statutes, for example:

  • Wisconsin: $5,000 to $25,000 per year
  • Texas: $80,000 per year plus annual annuities
  • Federal: $50,000 per year if the conviction involved no death sentence

Many state statutes follow the federal statute.

Under civil litigation, the range of compensation is significant. Courts awarded one of the largest verdicts to four men in 2007. They received $101.7 million. One of the largest single exoneree verdicts was $41 million in 2014. 

Calculating Compensation

One way to calculate compensation is to understand your statute's compensation rates. For example, suppose the courts wrongfully incarcerated you under the federal statute with no mention of the death penalty, and you served 10 years of your life in prison. In that case, your due compensation is fairly straightforward to estimate. In your case, the federal statute awards $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. For 10 years of wrongful incarceration, you could expect to receive $500,000.

Calculating a civil damage award is more difficult, but you can start by considering previous cases where the court awarded compensation to exonerees. You can compare the details of these cases to your situation to get a rough idea of the compensation you may receive.

Payment of Compensation Awards

The payment of compensation depends partially on how the compensation was awarded. That is, whether the award was granted via statute, civil lawsuit, or private bill. Sometimes the payment can also depend on the state and its statute governing compensation for wrongful incarceration.

Is Monetary Compensation Immediately Paid Upon Exoneration?

In many cases, monetary compensation is not immediate. Some statutes require the exoneree to prove certain elements before they are granted compensation. They may be required to demonstrate their innocence by clear and convincing evidence or by a preponderance of the evidence.

In some states, no statute provides monetary compensation to wrongfully incarcerated people. In these states, including Pennsylvania, the most efficient manner of recovering damages is to file a civil lawsuit. Civil lawsuits do not offer immediate compensation. It could take months or even years to receive monetary compensation from a civil lawsuit, although the eventual compensation can dwarf the awards granted by state and federal statutes. 

What To Expect When Filing a Wrongful Incarceration Lawsuit

If you pursue a wrongful incarceration lawsuit, it is important to set reasonable expectations regarding the process. You should understand that an exoneration does not guarantee you will win your wrongful incarceration lawsuit; however, it improves your eligibility for compensation.

A wrongful incarceration lawsuit can be a time-consuming and complicated process. It can proceed over multiple years before you receive compensation. Many wrongful incarceration cases reach a settlement before they reach trial because of the length of time these cases can take to resolve.

Although the road to compensation may be challenging, innocent people who have been exonerated often have strong claims for compensation. A civil rights lawyer who excels at wrongful incarceration compensation claims can help guide you through the process and provide the legal services you need to recover your due compensation.

Our Wrongful Incarceration Attorneys Are Here to Help

At McEldrew Purtell, we believe innocent people who the courts wrongly incarcerated deserve significant compensation for the years they spent in prison. No amount of money is going to return those years to you. However, monetary compensation can help you get back on your feet and enable you to make the most of the rest of your life. 

If the justice system exonerated you or a loved one after a wrongful incarceration, you might be eligible to file a civil claim for monetary compensation. A wrongful incarceration attorney from McEldrew Purtell can help. We can advise you of the strength of your case, provide you with an estimated range of monetary compensation you may receive, and explain your legal options. We can answer your questions about the process and provide you with information on the outcomes of similar cases.

Contact McEldrew Purtell today to discuss your wrongful incarceration lawsuit.