States Grapple with Compensation Laws for Boom in Exonerated Convicts

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McMurtrie said it's difficult to forecast how much a compensation law could cost a state each year. If a compensation law were implemented in Washington, the state would likely have to immediately compensate between 10 and 12 recently-exonerated innocent individuals, she said.

A 1996 study by the Ohio State University Criminal Justice Research Center estimated that about 10,000 people in the United States are wrongfully convicted of serious crimes every year, largely because of eyewitness misidentification.

Northrop and Larry Davis, another man convicted in his case, were both falsely picked out of a police line-up by a woman who had been attacked, blindfolded and raped, while working as a housekeeper in La Center, Wash., in 1993.

Bills to compensate the wrongfully convicted are pending in several states, where the debates have broadly highlighted the tension between fiscal effects and the political reality.

Draft legislation in Washington State, which would have provided up to $20,000 per year to Northrop and other innocent individuals wrongly imprisoned, failed to pass a Senate committee this year. Supporters hope it will receive a renewed push next year.

"These people have suffered more than any of us can imagine, on every level," said Brown. "The horror of prison when you're wrongfully convicted is just a new level of injustice. And, obviously, we ought to do everything we can to make people as whole as we can."

Brown says she's hopeful Michigan may become the 28th state to implement a compensation law later this year.

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