(A version of this story appeared in the spring 2012 edition of NCIP’s newsletter)
In February 2008, NCIP received a letter from Obie Anthony. Convicted of murder and robbery in 1995, he maintained his innocence and requested NCIP’s help. It was not the first time he had asked for a review of his conviction. But it was the first time someone took him seriously. When Anthony walked out of prison a free man, on October 4, 2011, he had spent 17 years wrongfully incarcerated.
NCIP, working with Loyola Law School’s Project for the Innocent, spent an estimated 5,100 attorney hours to win his freedom. If NCIP were to be compensated for all hours spent, the court would pay approximately $513,600 based on an average court compensation rate.* If a firm were to bill for a mid-level associate working those hours, the bill would be four times that amount or $2,054,400.
Below are estimates of some of the costs involved with an innocence case, using Anthony’s case as an example:
** Total does not include the thousands of hours spent helping exonerees re-acquaint with the world, housing them when they have nowhere to go, teaching them computer and other skills, and helping them find jobs and even civil lawyers.
Attorney costs associated with exonerating an inmate pale in comparison to the costs to the California taxpayer of incarcerating innocent people. According to a recent study by the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, wrongful convictions in California over the past 24 years cost taxpayers $282 million. Costs to taxpayers may include state compensation paid to wrongfully convicted inmates, prison housing costs associated with the inmate’s wrongful imprisonment ($60,000/year), costs from prolonged trials and appeals, and judgements or settlements from civil rights lawsuits. Below are the costs to California taxpayers on Anthony’s case: