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Wrongfully Charged for a Crime in Nevada: How Much Should the State Pay?

Brian J Smith Feb. 18, 2012

Who is held accountable if the system fails you?

The justice system isn’t perfect. Most everyone can agree on this fact. A wrongful conviction, however, is a mistake that comes with a high price tag for those who lose years of their lives locked up behind bars. The Innocence Project, a legal aid agency based in New York, is fighting to push states like Nevada to recognize and compensate those who were wrongly convicted. Nevada is one of 23 states without compensation statutes. For many nevada residents, this is something that needs to change.

The Innocence Project reports that the average time spent behind bars for those later proven to be innocent is 13.5 years. An article published by claims that up to 5 percent of individuals incarcerated in U.S. prisons are actually innocent, and more than 250 individuals in 34 states have been set free from prisons as a result of post-conviction DNA testing. The article also reports that almost half of those exonerated after wrongful convictions receive no compensation at all. The Innocence Project points out that even those who are eligible for compensation end up waiting an average of three years to get their money, and most states tax what little compensation is awarded.

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the wrongful conviction of individuals. Some of these include:

  • Sloppy investigative work by police

  • Ineffective representative by defense counsel

  • Dishonest and unreliable witnesses

  • Prosecutorial misconduct

The Innocence Project asserts that the average annual compensation among states that have enacted legislation averages $50,000 per year. The Innocence Project points to the legislation adopted by Texas as a model to address this issue. Compensation in Texas can include:

  • Payment of $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment

  • Compensation for child support payments

  • Compensation for tuition

  • Access to social services to assist individuals in re-entering society

In addition to the Innocence Project, there are several other supporters of compensation legislation in the State of Nevada. These supporters include Kate Kruse, a professor at UNLV and director of the Innoncence Clinic, a UNLV program focused on investigating wrongful conviction claims in Nevada. Kruse believes that compensation laws would actually be a benefit to taxpayers by regulating the amount paid rather than sporadic payments sought by individuals through private council. Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, a member of the Metro Police Fiscal Affairs Committee, has also gone on record to voice his support of the consideration of a compensation law in Nevada.

Even with financial compensation, no amount of money can make up for lost time. That’s why it’s important to choose your defense counsel wisely. For a consultation with the best Las Vegas criminal defense attorney, contact Brian J. Smith at (702) 380-8248.