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Wrongful Conviction Claims

Advances in DNA technology have led to the release of nearly 2,000 Americans according to The Innocence Project. Contrary to what is depicted on television and in film, exculpatory DNA evidence is not the only ticket to freedom. Sentences are overturned on the basis of eyewitness error, overreliance by a judge or jurors on discredited science, prosecutorial misconduct, and more. The exhilaration of exoneration is fleeting, however, as the wrongfully convicted work to put the pieces of their life back together after months or even years spent behind bars. We can help.

Seeking Compensation for a Wrongful Conviction

Incarceration imposes a financial hardship on those left behind. According to one recent study, an estimated 65 percent of families struggle in the wake of a conviction to pay for basic needs like food and housing, and 70 percent of these same families include children under the age of 18. Even when an inmate is released early due to a wrongful conviction, their reentry to society is fraught with difficulty. Time spent in state or federal prison often leads to stigmatization regardless of whether the incarceration was unfair or erroneous. Moreover, job training, temporary housing and other societal reentry programs are often reserved only for those who serve their full sentence – not those released early due to a wrongful conviction.

For this reason, it is important that those who are wrongfully convicted seek relief for the harm they and their family have suffered. Pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, former inmates whose convictions hinged upon misconduct by law enforcement have suffered a compensable civil rights violation. Such compensation can include an award of damages and attorney fees under federal law.

Unfortunately, unlike the neighboring states of New Jersey and Delaware, Pennsylvanians have no comparable common law statute. However, this may soon change. Legislation recently reintroduced calls for an award of $50,000 for each year wrongfully spent in prison regardless of the factors which led to a conviction, so long as the claim is timely – i.e., filed within two years of a pardon, acquittal or vacated sentence.

Malicious Prosecution Provides Relief for Some

In the interim, Pennsylvanians who are wrongfully convicted may still seek relief with a malicious prosecution lawsuit upon a showing that their incarceration was the direct result of misconduct. Prosecutors who encourage witnesses to commit perjury, obscure exculpatory evidence during discovery, or refuse to investigate other suspects have all been named as defendants in successful malicious prosecution actions in Pennsylvania. Importantly, Philadelphia civil rights lawyers say that defendants who are ultimately exonerated at trial may still seek relief. Damages can be sought pursuant to the state’s malicious prosecution statute even if a defendant never serves a day in jail.

Philadelphia Civil Rights Lawyers at Williams Cedar Seek Justice for the Wrongfully Convicted

A wrongful conviction causes long-term emotional and economic harm; those on the inside forego all manner of control over their day-to-day life as their family struggles to make ends meet outside prison walls. The recently exonerated can and must reclaim control over their financial future, however. The Philadelphia civil rights lawyers at Williams Cedar are passionate about righting wrongful convictions. If you believe you are entitled to damages under the federal Civil Rights Act or the state Malicious Prosecution statute, contact us at 215-557-0099 or complete this online form to schedule an appointment at our Philadelphia or New Jersey offices.