Prisons

$100 Million to Wrongfully Incarcerated

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Yesterday, a federal judge ordered the U.S. government to pay more than $100 million to four men who were wrongfully imprisoned for 35 years. The court found that the FBI had withheld evidence proving the men's innocence for decades. The Justice Department actually argued that the FBI has no duty to share evidence with state prosecutors, even if not sharing will result in a wrongful conviction.

Thankfully, the judge disagreed. Two of the four men have died. Their share will go to their heirs.

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  1. I’m sorry, it’s always wrong to let some innocent person rot in jail when you are sitting on exculpatory evidence. The people who did that should be in jail themselves. Unpardonable.

    See why federalizing criminal law was a Bad Idea??

  2. Between Nifong, felony charges against 12 year olds for butt slapping, trafficking charges despite a prescription and now this; I get the feeling there’s a conspiracy to make being a prosecutor a dishonorable profession just as I’m about to start my last year of law school.

  3. I cannot believe that keeping someone innocent in jail isn’t a criminal offense. For once a fucking politician could propose some legislation that actually might be good: to make it a criminal offense.

  4. Eryk Boston,

    Oh, I wouldn’t limit the dishonorableness of law to prosecutors. Only in-house counsel are pure 🙂

  5. Ug. I’ll say it again. I don’t like this type of compensatory action for government cock-ups because it doesn’t incentivize anyone in particular to not do this again. All it does is bleed more tax dollars out of my wallet.

    But, I find this more irritating in local government tort cases. I guess in the error of trillion dollar Federal budgets, a 100 million is really a pittance.

  6. era…error…what’s the difference?

  7. Jesus Christ! Why the hell should we be paying for the court’s mistakes!?! They were wrongfully incarcerated, but I don’t think that means we should pay for them to live out their lives in the lap-of-luxury.

  8. See why federalizing criminal law was a Bad Idea??

    As I was leaving the gym today I passed a TV offering ‘sports news’.

    I stumbled a little when I heard the words “…accused of violating Federal dogfighting laws..”

    Now, I’m no SIV, but those words in that order just sound so wrong.

  9. “Why the hell should we be paying for the court’s mistakes!?!”

    Doug,
    YOU are the government. The government is of and for the people.

    So, quit whining and pony up your share.

    NoStar

  10. NoStar,
    That was my point! I think it’s bullshit that “my share” is being used for this kind of crap.

  11. Only in-house counsel are pure

    True dat. Good-looking, too.

  12. Your share is about .30, unless you actually pay taxes in which case your share is about 9.70

  13. Radley (can I call you Radley?) –

    I beg you to space out your posts a bit more. Here I was having a good day, and now, having read about cops, prosecutors, and FBI agents, I’ve already hit Pissedoffitude Level Six, maxing out the Boone Scale of Unreasoning Anger (BSUA):

    Peeved -> Perturbed -> Irate -> Angry -> Enraged -> Apofuckingplectic

    You’re gonna give me a brain aneurysm, and I’m not even 40 yet.

  14. Why the hell should we be paying for the court’s mistakes

    You’re not paying for a court’s mistake. You’re paying for the wrongful actions of federal employees.

  15. Um, let me see. . .okay, I gotta sawbuck. I’m in.

  16. Ug. I’ll say it again. I don’t like this type of compensatory action for government cock-ups because it doesn’t incentivize anyone in particular to not do this again. All it does is bleed more tax dollars out of my wallet.

    Well that’s not all it does–the payment also provides some compensation to the injured party.

  17. Doug,

    Because these men are entitled to a big-ass retribution by the entity that wrongfully imprisoned them and it’s more than what those directly responsible can pay for.

    Having said that, it’s pretty terrible that there aren’t any criminal charges. Though I guess statute of limitations would apply…

  18. Doug,
    It may be time for a revolution.
    NS

  19. I wonder if this case will have the same “legs” as Scooter Libby’s?

  20. The Justice Department actually argued that the FBI has no duty to share evidence with state prosecutors, even if not sharing will result in a wrongful conviction.

    I think today’s the day I click on that absinthe ad.

  21. It has always pissed me off that the prosecutors get to claim they are acting on behalf of The People.

  22. Let’s do a thought experiment. Say that I, a private citizen, tricked the government into prosecuting, convicting, and incarcerating an innocent individual. Should I be subject to criminal prosecution for my action as well as liable to the victim for damages? If so, what’s the difference between me and a government employee?

  23. Careful Ethan,

    Abesinthe makes the heart grow fonder.
    Oh my God. It’s a date rape drug.

  24. Unfortunately, it’s probably a bit too late to punish most of those responsible for these actions.

  25. D. Greene,

    There’s always vigilante justice. Especially if someone just handed you $25 million.

  26. I’d like to submit the following motion:

    Henceforth, prosecutors of all forms shall be known and referred to as “persecutors,” or “persecutor.”

  27. Unfortunately, it’s probably a bit too late to punish most of those responsible for these actions.

    I wouldn’t go that far. Having almost certainly died unrepentant, rest assured the bastards who did this will burn for all eternity, along with the informants whose asses they covered.

    At any rate, they will if there’s a God at all.

  28. Say that I, a private citizen, tricked the government into prosecuting, convicting, and incarcerating an innocent individual. Should I be subject to criminal prosecution for my action as well as liable to the victim for damages?If so, what’s the difference between me and a government employee?

    I dunno about this example. If you were able to snooker the police into wrongfully prosecuting the wrong person I would think civil action would be more appropriate.

    The responsibility, ultimately, rests with the civil servants to take your side of things and corroborate them with reality and fact. The civil servants have real power and are the actual arbiters of when they will take action and what sort of action.

    At least that’s how I see it. I suppose you should be arrested for filing a false police report or face some kind of criminal action if you commit some kind of perjury or file a knowingly false complaint.

  29. MP | July 27, 2007, 3:22pm

    Ug. I’ll say it again. I don’t like this type of compensatory action for government cock-ups because it doesn’t incentivize anyone in particular to not do this again. All it does is bleed more tax dollars out of my wallet.

    Are any of the feds responsible still alive?

    If not, are any of their family members still receiving any type of pension? Perhaps their estates can be sued?

    At the very least, they should be posthumously stripped of any awards, or whatever can be done to dishonor the dead.

  30. Note to self: if ever wrongly (hell, or rightly) convicted, use my copious spare time to file FISA request until I have obtained all government record pertaining to me…

  31. NoStar | July 27, 2007, 3:47pm

    It has always pissed me off that the prosecutors get to claim they are acting on behalf of The People.

    Why shouldn’t they? It works for other tyrants (eg, Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, China, East Germany).

  32. …request…record…

    We’re having a plural shortage ’round here. Just so you know.

  33. You know why the FIBBIES din’t care? Cuz dose guys was from Joisey, or at least dey knew some guys from Joisey (like The Gillespie Family) and mebbe dey din’t do this guy but dey did do somebody else and hey, dey was behind bars where dey belonged.

    Disclaimer: No, No, No, I am not siding with the FBI here (unless, by FBI you mean Female Body Inspectors, as we called it in 6th grade before it was illegal to make jokes like that).

  34. I’d like to see people who do this sort of thing personally punished. $100 million is excessive, but how about providing the innocent ex-prisoners $30,000/year for life out of the pockets of those who wronged them?

    That’d cut down on malfeasance, or increase ass-covering. Or something.

  35. I stumbled a little when I heard the words “…accused of violating Federal dogfighting laws..”

    Now, I’m no SIV, but those words in that order just sound so wrong.

    They should. Dog fighting is illegal in all 50 States- and has been for a long time. Federal animal fighting laws are new. The HSUS lobbies to attach them to the Farm Bill. I would not be suprised at a proposal to create a specific Fed law enfocement agency for our new animal fighting laws.

  36. Stories like this make you wish that prosecutors were subject to Gowachin Rules of Procedure.

  37. As a taxpayer I have no problem with these guys getting a lot of money. But if any of the FBI agents involved are still alive they should have all of their property taken in order to repay the taxpayers. They should also be tossed into prison and have their prison wages taken until the taxpayers are repaid. – click my name and visit my blog.

  38. At the risk of conjuring up Mr Nice Guy, I don’t really like the cash jackpot settlement even in this case, simply because I don’t see it having a productive effect on the system in general. These men and their families should unquestionably recaive a (tax free) check from the government each year sufficient to allow them to live comfortably. Compensation for a stolen life is a frighteningly complex proposition (hence the 100 million).

    But I would rather see systemic reform, with some similar sum going into the budget for, among other things, more and better public defenders.

    And the head of the FBI should have to go to their houses and wash their Ferraris every Saturday, while they heckle him and shoot beer bottle tops at him. And then mow the lawn.

  39. Not sure what P Brooks is getting at as I have long and repeatedly wanted to see a lot more “systematic reform” in the area of public defenders. We need more of them and they need to be paid lots more. We have an adversarial system, and it is to be envied around the world. But it works when both sides are about equal, and currently that is not the case.

    The case in question was, I believe, a private tort case brought for malicious prosecution. Usually what you win with such cases is a money damage. Systemic reform would be great, but you can’t win that in a private tort case. Of course, this award may encourage such reform by providing an incentive for agencies not to do this again…

  40. “I stumbled a little when I heard the words “…accused of violating Federal dogfighting laws..”

    Now, I’m no SIV, but those words in that order just sound so wrong.”
    Threadjack, eh?
    Well, some of these federal laws aim at the interstate nature involved in some of these crimes, and it’s not a bullsh*t interstate nature like the way the commerce clause is invoked to make everything federal.

    It’s not always a bad idea to have federal involvement, especially since the feds often provide a nice check on state government corruption. The feds often bust local elected officials that are on the take and such, ones that would never have been smoked out by fellow local officials. In the Vick case the Surry County Attorney and cops basically dropped the ball like a Falcons WR on this (Surry County in VA is a dump). Thank goodness the feds were there to pick it up.

    Of course, while it is nice to have the feds watching the locals and staties, we must have someone watch the feds. I think a robust judicial system would be the best hope, but those Republicans keep bitching about those liberal activist judges, so that’s difficult to achieve…

  41. How’s this for a penalty for knowingly withholding exculpatory evidence to let an innocent person be incarcerated: All of the assets belonging to the guilty parties (in cases involving long-term incarceration) get transferred to the exonerated victims.

  42. It will be interesting to see how much the government actually will have to fork over when the matter comes to an end. Not all that much I’d think – appeal proceedings have a tendency to slash damages.

  43. Threadjack, eh?

    No, it was a direct comment on federalizing criminal law. Either you didn’t see the quote, or you missed the connection.

    The point had to do with the feds getting involved in things they have no business in. Dog fighting is just an absurd example to hang it on.

    There are probably a dozen things that the feds should actually have jurisdiction over, but they’re up to 10,000 and climbing. Your defense of that notwithstanding, I think it’s a Bad Thing. Even if a couple of poodles bite it along the way.

  44. Well my fowlish friend, since, as you say, you are no SIV, maybe you can give a reason or two why this federalizing of criminal law is a bad thing. I gave some for why I thought it was not (at least in reference to this).

  45. If so, what’s the difference between me and a government employee?

    If you screw up, or if they think you screwed up and you can’t completely prove you’re innocent, you get fired, sued, fined, and maybe sent to prison. Government employees get promoted.

    I would not be surprised at a proposal to create a specific Fed law enforcement agency for our new animal fighting laws.

    Unnecessary. “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, and Animal Welfare.”

    Of course, this award may encourage such reform by providing an incentive for agencies not to do this again.

    It would if the cash came out of the agency budget, but instead it comes from general funds. “If you can’t watch someone else do the time, don’t do the crime” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

  46. I greatly disapprove of them being incarcerated, but I also disapprove of seizing taxpayers’ money and giving it away because of the stupidity of government officials.

    Hmmm. I’m so conflicted here.

  47. I mean, its not like the taxpayers falsely imprisoned them.

    I really think there should be some level of personal liability, and some limit on taxpayer liabaility, where the application of state force is concerned. The government doesn’t care if you take its money, it either just takes more from taxpayers or says “Sorry, we can’t do what the taxpayers wanted because we don’t have the money anymore.”

  48. I’m sorry, it’s always wrong to let some innocent person rot in jail when you are sitting on exculpatory evidence. The people who did that should be in jail themselves. Unpardonable.

    Yes, exactly.

    I mean, look at Nifong. He KNEW the Duke players were innocent. But he tried his best to imprison them anyway.

  49. Picking up on TallDave’s points at 12:59 and 1:02:

    The judge’s order to the U.S. government to pay more than $100 million to the four men (or their heirs) who were wrongfully imprisoned for 35 years is a large step in the direction of justice. However, it’s an imperfect one, and not just cuz two of the victims of the wrongful sentence have died.

    It’s also wrong cuz it’s the taxpayers who have to pay the restitution. When government commits an injustice that requires restitution, that restitution should, at least in part, be paid out of the pensions or salaries of the personnel of the government agency responsible for the injustice.

  50. Just charge the incarcerated 100 mil room and board for their time and everyone is even. No foul, no free throw. These questions are easy.

  51. maybe you can give a reason or two why federalizing of criminal law is a bad thing

    It seems to me that this is a question that shouldn’t have to be asked on a libertarian blog. It’s a matter of first principles.

    Government should be minimal and should happen as close to the people as possible. Local is best, state next, and federal in only the most restricted circumstances. The states are the crucible of the law — let them… crucify or whatever the verb is.

    Of course you can find specific examples where there is a better outcome because the feds got involved. That doesn’t mean there should be federal laws against dog fighting or drunk driving or even homicide.

    Leave it to the states except where there is a compelling federal interest. Some douche with a dog pit, even if he is a pro sports figure, does not rise to the level of compelling.

  52. maybe you can give a reason or two why federalizing of criminal law is a bad thing

    No less a mainstream statist than probable GOP Presidential candidate Fred Thompson has a piece up today on his campaign website addressing the question.

    http://fredfile.imwithfred.com/2007/on-federalism/

  53. I ask the question because for most people the reason why they want laws made at the local or state rather than federal level is that there is a greater chance at the federal level that some majority that is out of touch with the values of your region or locality will make laws that run counter to those values. Hence a federal law against gay marriage thwarts places like San Francisco or Mass. where they are cool with that. And yes, that makes some sense.
    However, everyone should recognize that a locality’s values can run counter to a minority in that locality, and then they often run roughshod over that minority. Sometimes the only way that majority can get justice is to appeal to the federal government. Take civil rights for example. The nation as a whole was WAY ahead of Mississippi on that issue. If we let Miss. make civil rights laws in the name of not forcing national values on this poor state then we overlook the fact that Miss. was enforcing its values on some poor minority.
    In Surry County Virginia dogfighting is sure enough already illegal. But Vick is an immensely rich and powerful man, especially relative to Surry county. It’s easier for a man like that to get around the law if he’s faced only with the local police and prosecutor. But against the feds he can’t do that as well.
    In areas where there is a genuine split in the US about whether something should be illegal or not, then the feds should stay out of it. I’m thinking gay marriage, marijuana, euthanasia, gun rights. Currently dogfighting is not one of those areas as it is illegal in all 50 states. Therefore criminalizing it also at the federal level just makes enforcement of it much more consistent and reliable, as it did here.
    Too many libertarians read that conservative tripe that gets handed out at libertarian conferences and such (historically the two movements have been close in the US, why is beyond me since conservatives are authoritarians*) about states rights. States and local governments trample on many rights just fine thank you, and sometimes the feds curb them. The South was a nightmare for individual liberty and human dignity until federal lawmakers and courts stepped in.
    *Reading a recent thread here about libertarian-conservative alliances reminds me that there are people out there who sincerely believe that conservatives have a lot in common with libertarians. I would suggest they pick up a copy of what any good conservative will tell you is THE book of the conservative movement, Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. It’s how the movement sees its own forerunners and historical icons: Burke (the monarchist and foe of toleration), John Adams (of the Alien and Sedition Acts fame who castigated Jefferson’s “naive” ideas on liberty and his “athiesm”)), John Randolph and John Calhoun (aristocratic apologists for the slave south), T.S. Eliot (in his conservative Catholic phase). And this is BEFORE conservatism became essentially a wing of the religious right. So much for libertarian-conservative compatibility…For that matter, go to the source, the “father of conservatism” Burke himself and compare him to the liberal forerunner and counterpart Tom Paine (whom Reason had a great article recently). Liberals strike me as having much more in common with libertarians (heck, its right there in the root of both words, a concern with liberty). Where they divide, and its a big divide, is over whether liberty is freedom from or freedom to (with a boost from the government, of course!). But they both agree that liberty is what is good. Conservatives talk more about order and tradition than liberty. But don’t take my word for it, read Burke and Kirk.

  54. “I cannot believe that keeping someone innocent in jail isn’t a criminal offense. For once a fucking politician could propose some legislation that actually might be good: to make it a criminal offense.”

    …for which the wrong persons will be convicted.

    But seriously, what did the Justice Dept. even gain by the injustice? Did the informants demand as a condition of their cooperation that they be allowed to frame their enemies? Or would imprisoning these people make a bigger dent in the Mafia than would imprisoning the real murderer?

  55. I have an idea. Take the money out of their budget.

  56. I think that any self respecting federal prosecutor would take his ass to the courtroom and Indict everyone involved on this case with Felony MURDER!!!!! charges. My condolences to all the families ,the money is not enough:(

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