Faulty Convictions in California Lead to 2,346 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment and $282M+ in Costs Over 23 Years, New Study Finds

Below you will find a joint press release issued today by the three California-based Network organizations in support of the important report released by Rebecca Silbert, John Hollway and Darya Larizadeh, Criminal (In)justice: A Cost Analysis of Wrongful Convictions, Errors and Failed Prosecutions in California’s Criminal Justice System. The report examines 692 faulty convictions in California over the span of 23 years and seeks to quantify the costs and outline the causes.
Faulty Convictions in California Lead to 2,346 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment and $282M+ in Costs Over 23 Years, New Study Finds
The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP), the California Innocence Project (CIP) and Loyola’s Project for the Innocent (LPI) welcome today’s release of Criminal (In)justice: A Cost Analysis of Wrongful Convictions, Errors and Failed Prosecutions in California’s Criminal Justice System by Rebecca Silbert, John Hollway, and Darya Larizadeh. This groundbreaking study found 692 faulty convictions in California between 1989 and 2012, resulting in 2,346 total years of wrongful imprisonment and more than $282 million in wasted costs. While attempting to quantify the impact of faulty conviction, the report notes that the human costs of faulty conviction are immeasurable.Eight categories of error—including eyewitness misidentification, official misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel—are highlighted in the study, which also emphasizes the need for statewide policies to address the causes of error. The study recommends, among other solutions, evidence-based eyewitness identification practices, noting the solid research in support of such practices. The study also notes the opportunity California has to implement policy reforms that build on the consensus represented by the 2008 California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (Commission) recommendations.

NCIP agrees. “For close to a decade, we have had a detailed road map available for effective criminal justice reforms in the form of the 2008 recommendations from the Commission. But as those reforms have not been adopted or implemented, faulty convictions continue to take place and errors continue to be made,” says NCIP Executive Director Hadar Harris. “This important new study shows that, as a result, the State of California has wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer funds and destroyed decades of innocent peoples’ lives.”

The study was not limited to cases in which a claim of innocence was made; the authors noted that California’s uniquely difficult standard for proving actual innocence would restrict the evaluation’s parameters too much. Instead, the evaluation included all felony convictions that were reversed in the time period and in which charges were subsequently dismissed or the defendant acquitted.

“This study shows how pervasive the causes of wrongful convictions can be, and how some simple, commonsense reforms would both save taxpayers money and strengthen our system to make sure innocent people do not go to prison,” said Justin Brooks, Executive Director of the California Innocence Project.  “The conclusions and recommendations found here should not be read as a criticism of current practices, but rather a way to open an earnest dialogue concerning the long-term effects of wrongful convictions and how to change things for the better.”

NCIP, CIP and LPI actively support criminal justice system reforms that rectify and prevent wrongful convictions.  Reform efforts include statewide implementation of evidence-based eyewitness identification practices and mandatory videotaping of custodial interrogations.

“There are some very real costs to wrongful convictions.  Of course, the most significant costs are to the individuals whose cases are not handled fairly by the judicial system.  But there are also costs to the public and criminal justice system itself,” said Laurie Levenson, who holds the David W. Burcham Chair in Ethical Advocacy at Loyola Law School. “Everyone profits when the police, prosecutors and defense lawyers act zealously and honestly to ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected.  Loyola’s Project for the Innocent is dedicated to rectifying wrongful convictions and preventing future injustices.”

For more information about NCIP’s, CIP’s and LPI’s exoneration efforts and policy initiatives, please contact:

NCIP Policy Director Lucy Salcido Carter at lcarter@scu.edu or 650-400-4364 (Cell).
CIP Associate Director Alex Simpson at ajs@cwsl.edu or (619) 515-1525.
LPI’s Legal Director Paula Mitchell at Paula.Mitchell@lls.edu or (213) 736-8143.

About the Northern California Innocence Project

The Northern California Innocence Project’s (NCIP) mission is to create a fair, effective, and compassionate criminal justice system and to protect the rights of the innocent. NCIP is a project of Santa Clara University School of Law.  NCIP is a member of the Innocence Network, an affiliation of independent organizations (including the Innocence Project, located in New York) dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted, and working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions. Since its founding in 2001, NCIP has attained justice for 18 innocent people who had collectively spent more than 230 years in prison. For more information, please visit www.ncip.scu.edu.

About the California Innocence Project

The California Innocence Project (CIP) is a law school clinical program at California Western School of Law dedicated to releasing wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience to the students enrolled in the clinic.  Its three missions are: to free innocent people from prison; to provide outstanding training to our law students so they will become great lawyers; and to change laws and procedures to decrease the number of wrongful convictions and improve the justice system.

Founded in 1999, CIP reviews more than 2,000 claims of innocence from California inmates each year. Students who participate in the year-long clinic work alongside CIP staff attorneys on cases where there is strong evidence of factual innocence. Together, they have secured the release of many innocent people who otherwise may have spent the rest of their lives in prison.  For more information, please visitCaliforniaInnocenceProject.org.

About Loyola’s Project for the Innocent

The Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent (LPI) investigates and litigates cases of wrongful conviction.  LPI’s clients are men and women who are serving decades-long or life sentences in California prisons for crimes they did not commit.  LPI is a proud member of  the Innocence Network and is dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to indigent individuals seeking to prove their innocence.  LPI’s social justice mission is also dedicated to reforming our criminal justice system to eradicate the primary causes of wrongful convictions.  For more information, please visit www.lls.edu.

Lucy Salcido Carter, Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) Policy Director, lcarter@scu.edu, 650-400-4364 (Cell) orAudrey Redmond, NCIP Communications Director, alredmond@scu.edu, 408-396-1360 (Cell)

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