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Compensation for wrongful imprisonment? Depends on who has the keys

July 04, 2010 By: Wendy Phillips Category: Law, legal


The resurfacing of Jaycee Dugard, in 2009, after being kidnapped by Phillip Garrido in 1991 when she was only 11 years old, was greeted with joy by residents of California.  Some residents, however, now appear to be unhappy with the news released last week that Dugard and her children will receive a $20 million payout from the state.

Both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly approved the settlement. The state Assembly passed the bill 70-2, and the Senate voted 30-1 in favor.  A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he plans to sign the bill.

The $20-million settlement “would end any claims with the state,” said Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D- Sylmar), the author of the bill, AB 1714. “Jaycee and her children are now living in seclusion and will need many years of therapy, education and health care,” said Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar.

The money will be used to buy the family a home, ensure privacy, pay for education, replace lost income and cover what will likely be years of therapy, said Daniel Weinstein, a retired San Francisco County Superior Court judge, who acted as the mediator in the case.

“It was not an effort to make reparations for the years of abuse and incarceration or imprisonment against their will, because … the damages to these people were incalculable,” Weinstein said in a telephone interview. “Part of this was a prudent effort by the state to shut off liability from a catastrophic verdict.”  He said the scope of the claim was unprecedented in his 20 years as a mediator because of the duration of the crime and that it led to the birth of two children.

Unprecedented?  Surely Mr. Weinstein has heard about other cases of wrongful imprisonment.  I read about one just last month.

Jabbar Collins is a New York man whose murder conviction was overturned after being wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years.  Collins was convicted in 1995 of gunning down Rabbi Abraham Pollack as he collected rent money in a Williamsburg building.  Last month, a judge tossed Collins’ conviction and released him.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office was blamed for withholding evidence which led to Collin’s wrongful conviction and imprisonment.  However, the D.A. offered no apologies, a fact that rankled federal Judge Dora Irizarry, who called the DA’s behavior “shameful” and “disappointing.”

Then there is the case of James Bain, a Florida man, who was freed on December, 17, 2009, after being wrongfully incarcerated for 35 years for a crime he did not commit. Bain was exonerated after a DNA test showed he did not kidnap and rape a 9-year-old boy in 1974.

“Nothing can replace the years Jamie has lost,” said Seth Miller, a lawyer for the Florida Innocence Project, which helped Bain win freedom. “Today is a day of renewal.”

Florida last year passed a law that automatically grants former inmates found innocent $50,000 for each year they spent in prison. No legislative approval is needed. That means Bain is entitled to $1.75 million.

Stan V. Smith, a forensic economist and expert on compensation for loss of life, said that in some respects, the wrongly convicted may actually suffer a loss greater than death. “It’s not just the years they lost and the mental anguish of being incarcerated wrongfully.” Mr. Smith said. “Your earnings are going to be impaired forever; your social interactions are going to be impaired forever. It’s like being thrown into a time warp.”

In an extensive look this summer and fall at what had happened to 137 exonerated prisoners after their release, The New York Times found about half of them struggling — drifting from job to job, dependent on others for housing or battling deep emotional scars. More than two dozen ended up back in prison or addicted to drugs or alcohol.

“Some people feel, ‘All right, it’s over now. You’re out, you’re free, so what are you complaining about? What’s the problem?’” said Darryl Hunt, exonerated in North Carolina after serving 18 years for murder. “The problem is that we’re free physically,” he said. “But mentally, we’re still living the nightmare every day.”

With more than 140 exonerated prisoners released since 2000, twenty-two states and the District of Columbia now compensate them using formulas ranging from lump sums to calculations of lost wages.

But the amounts vary widely. Wisconsin provides $5,000 a year up to a maximum of $25,000 total. Tennessee provides up to $1 million total.  California offers $100 a day.  This means that if California had applied this law to Jaycee Dugard and her 2 children, they would have received a little less than $2 million for their ordeal.

Should Jaycee receive more than California residents who are imprisoned wrongfully simply because Garrido held the keys to her ‘jail’ instead of the state?  While held by Garrido, Jaycee was subjected to sexual abuse just as prisoners are.  However, prisoners are not allowed to go to the store, swim in a backyard pool or go to work in a print shop where they interact with the public – like Jaycee did during her ordeal.

Everyone agrees that Jaycee and her children deserve some compensation for the nightmare they suffered. But some feel that the amount awarded is outrageous because it was not based on a formula or enumerated factors, but on the state’s fear of a lawsuit.

Why is California fearful of a trial in this case? A trial would be helpful because it would force a jury to come up with a formula for compensation.  A trial would also educate the public about Stockholm syndrome – which some say Jaycee suffered.  A trial would also assign blame and identify all the parties and policies which failed Jaycee.

Two parties are responsible for Jaycee’s nightmare, the state of California and Garrido.  But with this award, Jaycee will probably never see the need to bring a civil lawsuit against Garrido, and he may never be held accountable to Jaycee for his intentional and horrific acts.

4 Comments to “Compensation for wrongful imprisonment? Depends on who has the keys”

  1. The Jaycee Dugard story is unique. The failures of the system are obvious. The whole question of missing people is a huge, emotive issue. Look at how the media reported the Madeleine McCann story.
    Another missing person story which touched the hearts of the world. How many stories of recovery are in the news. How many happy endings do we ever hear about. The actions of P and N Garrido were evil. The freedom P. Garrido had to commit these crimes was granted by the state. He had an official status as a convicted rapist. A monitoring policy was in place. He avoided all detection and for eighteen long years all these horrible, disgusting abuses were done to Jaycee Dugard. He was not investigated in any adequate way. The state of California can share the blame with the Garrio couple.

    The media is an extremely powerful industry. It can focus on a sensitive issue and pull at the heart strings of the world. It can also pull at the purse strings of the state.

  2. I feel that Jaycee should be compensated for her suffering. The state owes her compensation.

    I wish the media would put the spotlight on other stories. All contain victims, suffering and failure. These are not considered newsworthy by the news editors. No-one puts pressure on the guilty. Nothing is challenged. This is why these people are not granted compensation.

  3. It certainly depends on who holds the keys. For the innocent people who are convicted of crimes and incarcerated, the compensation apart from being monetary,should in itself be a deterrent or even punitive to all law enforcement who withhold vital information and evidence, that would have led to a different outcome.

  4. What kind of country is this that it cannot clean up its own legal system while going around the world to bomb people out of their beds for much less of an infraction. Take a look at a picture of yourself 20 to 35 years and project the life you were living then, and superimpose that in the world today. Living like that would make people ask you, “Where have you been, that you don’t know about anything?” Then you would have to try to tell the whole story of your wrongful conviction to everyone who asks that question. It’s hell reliving the experience over and over again. Going to the store and not knowing how to use the check out lanes, or buy packaged foods, etc. How do you build new relationships under those conditions. You would be like a child. Without someone who really cares to take you by the hand for about 3 to 5 years, you might end up going crazy. What is that worth in dollars. What harm has that done to the community from which these people came? We need to spend tax dollars cleaning up the mess in this country.


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