Wrongful convictions in California

According to a study from the California Wrongful Convictions Project at the University of California Berkeley School of Law, there were more than 200 wrongful convictions in the state since 1989. These wrongful convictions included serious offenses like rape and murder. California has the highest number of exonerations of any other state.

Wrongful conviction costs add up

The study included two definitions of wrongful conviction. The first was when the person’s conviction was reversed and they were fully acquitted upon retrial, and the second was incidences where all the charges were dropped by the court or prosecutor after conviction.

Wrongful convictions have not only cost those erroneously convicted an estimated 1,300 years behind bars collectively, but they have cost California taxpayers $129 million in incarceration and compensation fees. That figure is a preliminary one and does not account for attorneys’ fees and the costs associated with the court proceedings to overturn the convictions. Those costs will be added into a more detailed report to be released in 2013.

The large majority of wrongful convictions were for murder or manslaughter at 42 percent of the total. The next highest percentage was for child sex abuse totaling 17 percent of the wrongful convictions.

Sentencing and factors in wrongful convictions

The majority of those wrongfully convicted spent time behind bars before they got their convictions overturned. About 40 percent of the people who were wrongfully convicted were sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

The main factors and percentages of occurrence that led to wrongful convictions were:

  • False accusation or perjury-42 percent of cases
  • Official misconduct by prosecutors or police-39 percent of cases
  • Mistaken ID by an eyewitness-26 percent of cases
  • Ineffective and inadequate defense attorney-19 percent of cases
  • Inaccurate DNA evidence-less than 6 percent of cases

It’s interesting to note that a fourth of the wrongful convictions were from people framed by the police in the Los Angeles Rampart Police scandal of the late 1990s, yet only 10 percent of the collective prison time was served by them.

If you are facing a criminal charge or you have a loved one who you believe has been wrongfully convicted, it is advisable to seek out the counsel of an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

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