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Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP | Aug 30, 2017

Can the Wrongfully Imprisoned Seek Compensation?

Our criminal justice system uses the highest burden of proof for validating a conviction. This standard of evidence requires the government to prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and it is higher than the burden of proof used in civil courts that handle personal injury cases (by a preponderance of the evidence, which means “more likely than not”).

The concept behind this elevated burden of proof in criminal cases was driven by the idea that it is better to let a guilty person go free than it is to convict and imprison an innocent person. Most people agree with that. Unfortunately, our criminal justice system is far from perfect, and wrongful convictions happen all the time. With roughly two million Americans behind bars, the U.S. leads the world in incarcerating its citizens. Even with a wrongful conviction rate of just 1%, this would mean that 20,000 inmates are serving time for crimes they did not commit. What’s more, recent statistics published by the Washington Post found that as many as 4.1% of death row inmates are later proven innocent.

While wrongful convictions certainly introduce some of the most difficult legal and moral questions, the fact remains that there are avenues for exoneration, even if they can take years for wrongfully convicted inmates to navigate. Often, these exonerations happen with help from skilled criminal appellate lawyers who introduce new evidence, including DNA evidence, or with assistance from special interest groups such as The Innocence project. When a conviction is vacated or overturned on appeal, wrongfully imprisoned individuals are proven innocent and released from custody. However, months or years behind bars, as well as the emotional toll of a tragic journey, can create a lifetime of challenges.

Because reintegration into society can be a profound challenge following what has already been a great deal of turmoil, our legal system recognizes the obligation to provide assistance and compensation to the wrongfully imprisoned. In addition to the federal government, Ohio is one of 32 states that have statutory laws regarding the compensation of wrongfully convicted and imprisoned individuals. In Ohio, you are considered wrongfully convicted if:

  • You were charged with a felony, found guilty, and did not plead guilty to the charge or any lesser offense.
  • You were sentenced to prison.
  • Your conviction was dismissed, vacated, or reversed on appeal.
  • No appeals related to the conviction are pending.

Under Ohio law, individuals who are considered wrongfully imprisoned have the right to file a lawsuit against the state for a recovery of their damages. These damages can include reimbursement of court costs and attorney fees, a statutory amount of compensation as determined by the state (approximately $52,600 for the current year) for each year of imprisonment (or prorated for any partial years served), lost income and certain debts incurred during incarceration. Individuals who were wrongfully convicted of federal offenses and sentenced to federal prison also have the right to file suit against the federal government.

When full and fair compensation is essential to securing a sense of justice and the means to begin rebuilding one’s life, it becomes critical for any wrongfully imprisoned individual to work with experienced attorneys like those at Spangenberg Shibley & Liber who have experience handling civil actions against the state of Ohio for wrongful imprisonment. Our attorneys are prepared to help protect your rights and work toward a recovery for the full amount of damages to which you are entitled.

If you wish to discuss a potential wrongful imprisonment case and learn how our legal team can guide you through the civil process, call (216) 600-0114 for a free and confidential consultation.