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Ohio's statutory system for compensating the wrongfully imprisoned, R.C. 2743.48

American justice is built on the promise that anyone accused of a crime has a right to a fair trial. But with disturbing frequency, our criminal-justice system falls short of that bar. Recent local examples can be found in the cases of Ricky Jackson, who spent 39 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, or of the East Cleveland 3, all sentenced to life in prison for a 1995 murder but released in 2015 after witness testimony and forensic testing were revealed to be unreliable.

The number of exonerations nationwide is nothing short of alarming. In 2016 alone, the National Registry of Exonerations-which tracks all exonerations in the United States-recorded 168 individuals who had been exonerated.

Acknowledging this sad reality, Ohio has a system set up for compensating people who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. This system is set forth in R.C. 2743.48, and in some cases it can provide significant financial compensation to those who qualify as a "wrongfully imprisoned individual."

But securing this designation isn't easy. To qualify, a released person must go to the common pleas court that held the criminal case and establish that he or she meets the statutory definition of a "wrongfully imprisoned person." That definition rules out anyone who pleaded guilty to the original offense, regardless of the circumstances. Only those who maintained their innocence all along and were convicted at trial can qualify.

The released person must also show that he or she did not commit the charged offense or any lesser-included offenses. Siller v. State provides a cautionary tale on this requirement. In Siller, two men secured a new murder trial with the help of the Innocence Project. Before the new trial, they secured their immediate releases by accepting a plea deal in which they pleaded guilty to theft charges. But because the theft charges were lesser-included offenses, the men could not qualify as wrongfully imprisoned persons. (That is not to say that say that they were left without relief; they pursued claims in federal court as well and secured a substantial settlement.)

After satisfying the statutory definition, a wrongfully imprisoned person can seek compensation from the Court of Claims, which must accept the common pleas court's wrongfully-imprisoned-person determination. An individual can recover $44,330 per year of imprisonment, with upward adjustment for inflation-plus lost wages, attorneys' fees for criminal representation, and costs collected by the state while in custody. See also R.C. 2743.49.

In truth, money is a shallow substitute for the losses people suffer while wrongfully incarcerated; nothing can fully replace the time lost. But it is what the civil-justice system primarily offers, and it can provide some sense of redemption at the hands of the government. At the Chandra Law Firm, we explore this statute and all other possible legal avenues to vindicate the wrongfully incarcerated and to hold government actors accountable.

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