Texas has an unenviable record for wrongful convictions. When a defendant is wrongfully jailed he or she is not the only one to lose out. A report this month reveals the state has paid 101 men and women who were wrongfully jailed $93.6 million over the last 25 years.
That’s money that could have been spent on services to the population which could have helped keep the state safer.
The figures from the state comptroller’s office were reported in the Star-Telegram.
The report said a defendant whose conviction is later overturned and declared to be innocent by a judge, court or a prosecutor is eligible for a pay out of equal to $80,000 for each year they spent incarcerated. They also become eligible for monthly annuity payments for the rest of their lives, assuming they are not convicted of a felony.
The Innocence Project says the compensation program in Texas is one of the most generous in the nation.
The Star-Telegram reported that the state’s compensation program is based on the Tim Cole Act. It came into law in 2009 and was named after a former student from Fort Worth who was wrongfully convicted of aggravated sexual assault in the 1980s. It replaced a less generous system.
As of May 31, Texas had paid people who were exonerated of crimes $69.1 million in lump sums and $24.5 million in monthly payments since 1991.
The report said the highest sum was paid to Rickey Dale Wyatt, who spent more than three decades behind bars in Dallas County for an aggravated rape he did not commit. He received a lump sum of $2.4 million.
It’s staggering that so many people spent so long jailed in Texas for offenses they did not commit. No amount of money can compensate for their loss of liberty for so many years.
These former inmates spent a cumulative 1,000 years jailed for crimes they did not commit, the report stated. Indeed, more than 50 percent of the exonerees served six years or longer behind bars. More than 30 people receive payments in excess of $1 million.
Few of these wrongful convictions have received as much publicity of that of Michael Morton, who wrongly served 24 years for the murder of his wife. Morton received $1.4 million.
The wrongful conviction led to new rules over discovery in Texas and greater openness in a bid to improve the criminal justice system.
Texas leads the nation in terms of exonerations. If you have been charged with a serious crime such as murder, you should not rely on the criminal justice system to give you a fair trial. It’s vital to hire experienced criminal defense attorneys to fight for you.