Over 20 years ago, a teenager was shot and killed in the streets of the Bronx. Several states away, the New York Law Journal reports, Richard Rosario learned that he had been named as the murderer in the case. Despite the fact that Rosario was in Florida at the time of the altercation and there was no physical evidence to tie him to the case, two witnesses named him as the murderer after seeing his picture in a police photo book, and Rosario was convicted of second-degree murder and sent to jail. In June, 2016, investigators took the time to travel to Florida and interview a dozen alibis that Rosario named in the case originally and found that he was not guilty, allowing him to finally leave prison.
While this apparent righting of a wrong should be celebratory, the fact is that an innocent man still lost 20 years of his life and gained a false criminal record. Rosario claims that a Bronx trial judge barred him from seeking damages as compensation for the lost time and lower quality of life because of what he suffered.
Is this fair? Many exonerated prisoners and their attorneys do not think so. There are cases all around the country of ex-prisoners walking free with no charges, but also nothing to show for the lost years of their lives. In addition to missed opportunities, there is often psychological damage that accompanies the distraught. ABC News reported on similar cases and stated that one man, who had never been in trouble with the law before being unjustly imprisoned for rape, still wakes up in the night and has to remind himself that he is not in prison.
What does the court system do to make up for their mistake and help the victim? In most cases, the answer is nothing. Only 14 states have a compensation program in place, and the limits on their offerings are low. North Carolina will pay up to $150,000 for wrongful imprisonment, but Texas courts will only pay $25,000. Many attorneys do not believe this is enough to cover losses and damages.
While court officials may feel pity for the mistake, some do not feel that compensation is necessary because it is not the court’s fault. In cases where updated DNA technology proved innocence, lawmakers argue that they had done all they could with what technology was available and should not be held responsible for the mistake. If you or a loved one has been wrongly imprisoned, seek the help of an experienced attorney who will fight for your right to receive compensation for the injustice experienced.