Wednesday, December 19, 2007

State is at a crossroads for improving criminal justice

December 19, 2007

By Stephen Saloom, Ruthland Harald

In the next few days, leading experts from across Vermont will release recommendations on how to improve the state's criminal justice system by preventing wrongful convictions.

The proposals developed by these experts have the potential to make the state's system of justice stronger and more accurate. If they take this opportunity to strengthen public safety and protect innocent people from wrongful convictions — instead of protecting the status quo — they will have fulfilled their mission as outlined by the state Legislature.

The experts' work stems from a groundbreaking package of reforms the state Legislature passed earlier this year. I testified in support of these bills, along with a Massachusetts man who was wrongfully convicted of three rapes and served 19 years in prison before DNA proved his innocence.

To prevent such miscarriages of justice — and to advance public safety by making sure true perpetrators of crimes are apprehended — the legislation created expert task forces to determine how to prevent eyewitness misidentification and false confessions, two of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. It also created a task force to determine how to best preserve biological evidence (which can later be subjected to DNA testing) and passed a new law providing convicted people with access to DNA testing when it could demonstrate their innocence.

Together, these bills begin to put Vermont in line with other states that are taking critical, concrete steps that are proven to address and prevent wrongful convictions. But the legislation was just the first step; the next critical phase for improving the state's criminal justice system will come with task force recommendations.

The stakes are high, as illustrated by the 209 post-conviction DNA exonerations nationwide. Each of these cases represents a personal tragedy but, as importantly, each provides an opportunity to understand what in the criminal investigation process causes police, prosecutors and juries to believe that an innocent person is guilty of a crime he did not commit. By reviewing these cases, the Innocence Project has learned what causes wrongful convictions. Eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 75 percent of those cases; false confessions or admissions contributed to 25 percent of them.

Many cities and states have already implemented simple reforms that are proven to decrease wrongful convictions, and the task forces developing recommendations for Vermont can learn from other states' experiences.

The Eyewitness Identification and Recording of Interrogations task force has reviewed information from jurisdictions nationwide that are already using eyewitness identification procedures that minimize incorrect identifications. They've learned about the 500 jurisdictions across the country that record interrogations to prevent false confessions or admissions. The task force has also seen volumes of strong scientific research showing that these reforms are effective. Perhaps most importantly, the task force members have learned that cities and states that have adopted these simple, straight-forward reforms are extremely pleased with how they are working.

Meanwhile, the Preservation of Evidence task force is learning how innocent people can be exonerated — and "cold" cases can be solved — through common-sense changes in procedures. Federal legislation championed by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy in recent years has led other states to preserve biological evidence and provide statutory access to post-conviction DNA testing. Under this federal legislation, Vermont will qualify for federal grant funds — if the task forces develop strong recommendations.

There is solid support for improving Vermont's criminal justice system. The legislation that passed earlier this year was spearheaded by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, and Jane Woodruff of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs is leading both of the task forces looking closely at how to best address these issues.

Since the task forces were formed, five more innocent people have been exonerated through DNA evidence. The state Legislature and the task forces are positioned to prevent such injustice in Vermont. The opportunity to enhance the state's criminal justice system is in their hands. In the next few days, we'll find out what they choose to do with it.

Stephen Saloom is the policy director at the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization that uses DNA to exonerate wrongfully convicted people and pursues criminal justice reforms to prevent future injustice.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Innocent man's conviction shows flaws in lineups

December 13, 2007

By Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

When the elderly rape victim was asked whether her attacker was in a lineup of five men, she picked the man in the middle — John Jerome White.

Based almost entirely on that identification, White was convicted of the 1979 attack in Meriwether County and sent to prison. But 28 years later, DNA evidence proved what White had been saying all those years: He didn't do it.

The DNA evidence did match with someone else standing in that lineup in 1979. In a stunning coincidence, the man now charged with the assault stands to White's left in the fuzzy photo of that long-ago lineup. His name is James Edward Parham.

White, 48, would serve more than 12 years in prison for the crime now blamed on Parham; Parham, now 54, would rape another Meriwether County woman six years later.

Parham happened to be in the Oct. 4, 1979, lineup not because he was a suspect but because he and the three other men standing alongside White were in jail at the time for unrelated offenses.

The photograph of that lineup — with White, in the middle wearing ragged shorts and a white T-shirt, and Parham, on the far right wearing a striped shirt and a concerned expression — was released Thursday during a meeting of a legislative study committee considering new standards for eyewitness identification procedures in Georgia.

"It was just a fluke [Parham] was put in the same lineup with John White," said Aimee Maxwell, director of the Georgia Innocence Project, which secured White's exoneration. "This is a tragedy, on many levels."

White, the seventh man in Georgia cleared by DNA evidence, attended Thursday's legislative committee meeting and said he supports passage of new laws setting protocols for officers to follow when gathering eyewitness identification evidence.

During a break, standing in a hallway at the Capitol, White said he met Parham again while the two served time in Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe. "He's got a cross to bear," White said of Parham.

When he was told the rape victim identified him in October 1979, White was shocked, he said. "I felt like I was in trouble. I wondered how was I going to get out of this."

White, defended at the time by now-U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), did not take the witness stand at his trial. When the jury found him guilty, White said, he told the judge he didn't do it. "Then, when they put me back in the holding cell, I just cried," he said. Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-Atlanta) told White she will support legislation to compensate him for the time he spent wrongly incarcerated.

Benefield released drafts of proposed legislation that says, beginning July 1, 2011, all photographic or physical lineups must be conducted by officers who have successfully completed eyewitness ID training. The legislation also says if a law enforcement agency does not have written protocols on eyewitness ID by Jan. 1, 2009, the agency can be denied state funding or state-administered federal funding.

Benefield said improved eyewitness ID procedures are necessary because there are only so many cases where DNA evidence can be used to identify the perpetrator.

The GBI supports improved eyewitness ID protocols, spokesman John Bankhead said Thursday. "Nobody in law enforcement wants to arrest the wrong person," he said.

DNA testing was unavailable at the time of the Aug. 11, 1979, sexual assault in Meriwether County.

The 74-year-old victim, who is now deceased, lay asleep on her couch when her attacker broke into her home around 4 a.m. She was raped and beaten so severely her face was left partly paralyzed. Before her attacker left, he handed her a pillow and said, "Hold this to your face until I get out."

The woman had prescription eyeglasses but she was not wearing them at the time, the Georgia Innocence Project's Maxwell said Thursday.

On Sept. 28, 1979, the woman was shown a number of photographs, including White's, and she said she was "almost positive" it was him. When she was presented the lineup of five men at the jail a week later, she said she was positive that White — not Parham standing just a few feet away — was the man who raped her.

The Georgia Innocence Project began investigating the case in 2004 after receiving a letter from White in prison. The project eventually learned that hairs linking White to the crime through microscopic analysis were still on file at the Meriwether County Clerk's Office.

In November, the hair was sent to the GBI Crime Lab. DNA testing determined the hair belonged to Parham, whose DNA was already in a state database, according to the GBI.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Crime Labs Struggle with Flood of DNA Samples

December 12, 2007

by Ari Shapiro, NPR

Forensic DNA databanks have grown steadily in the last 20 years across the country. The first databases only included samples from convicted felons. Now some states and cities are taking DNA samples from arrestees and those convicted of misdemeanors. Although some studies have shown that larger databases correlate with greater numbers of DNA matches from crime scenes, there are also drawbacks to expanding a DNA database.

"What happens is you create an immediate backlog," says DNA consultant Chris Asplen.

Backlogs of DNA crime scene evidence are a significant concern across the country. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that the L.A. Police Department has nearly 7,000 untested DNA samples from sexual assault cases in cold storage. A state audit said the LAPD would need more than $9 million to clear the backlog.

During the time that samples remain untested in cold storage, offenders may commit crimes that could have been prevented.

Dr. Paul Ferrara, who created the first DNA database in 1989 as head of Virginia's Department of Forensic Science, remembers one rape case from the 1990s. It took the lab months to realize that the crime scene DNA matched someone whose profile was in the database. "In the meantime," Ferrara says, "this guy had raped and murdered a woman by the name of Gemma Saunders."

It is far easier and less expensive to run known offender samples than it is to run crime scene samples.

"You can run thousands of felon samples for every couple cases of crime scene evidence you run," Ferrara says.

With a major DNA database expansion, a forensics department with a limited budget suddenly has to balance an existing backlog of crime scene samples with tens of thousands of known offenders who have to be added to the database right away.

Civil libertarians also have concerns about expanding databases. Law-enforcement groups like to say that giving police a DNA sample is no different from giving police your fingerprint, but Tania Simoncelli of the ACLU says DNA is far more personal than a fingerprint. A DNA sample "contains a great deal of information. It could be about susceptibility to disease, as well as your family history," Simoncelli says. "This is private, personal information about you that goes far beyond just your identification."

Forensics labs could take one step that would make civil libertarians very happy. Right now, labs hold actual biological samples from known offenders. Privacy advocates want the labs to throw out the full DNA sample and retain just the 13 loci — the points that scientists use to match a known sample to a crime scene. That way, scientists couldn't search for illnesses or other private information.

Tony Rauckauckus, the district attorney for Orange County, Calif., considered discarding his county's biological DNA samples and decided against it.

"There's a possibility that it might have to be tested again," Rauckauckus says.

His county recently decided to require DNA samples from anyone who pleads guilty to a misdemeanor. So far, Rauckauckus hasn't received any complaints.

"I just think the more people we have in the database, the more likely it is that we're going to be able to catch people who commit more serious crimes," he says.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

DNA Test Clears Man After 27 Years

December 11, 2007

By Dorie Turner, Associated Press

A man enjoyed freedom Tuesday after a DNA test proved he did not commit a 1979 rape. John Jerome White, 48, left Macon State Prison on Monday evening.

"I'm just thankful that this is behind me," White said at a news conference Tuesday morning with the Georgia Innocence Project, which had worked to free him.

"When I first started out, I wondered why this happened to me," he said, breaking into tears. "I just saw it as something that had to happen because I wasn't living a moral life."

The investigation led to the arrest Tuesday of James Edward Parham, 54, of Manchester, who was on the state's Sex Offender Registry for a 1985 rape conviction, Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said. He was being held in the Meriwether County jail on charges of rape, aggravated assault, burglary and robbery.

A sheriff's office employee declined to say whether Parham had an attorney, and there was no immediate response from the public defender's office. There was no answer on a telephone listed at the address given for Parham in a GBI news release.

White is the seventh Georgia convict to be cleared by DNA evidence, said Aimee Maxwell, director of the Atlanta-based Georgia Innocence Project. In every case, the men were wrongly convicted on eyewitness accounts.

"This case does point out the fallibility of eyewitness identification," Maxwell said.

White was convicted in 1980 of breaking into a 74-year-old woman's home and raping and robbing her. The woman has since died.

He was sentenced to life in prison, then was paroled in 1990. White was sent back to prison for 2 1/2 years on a drug violation in 1993. A 1997 robbery charge led to a conviction, a seven-year sentence and a requirement that he return to serving his life sentence for the rape conviction.

At the urging of the Georgia Innocence Project, authorities tested DNA from hairs found at the scene of the 1979 rape, using tests that weren't available at the time.

District Attorney Peter Skandalakis of the Coweta Judicial District said authorities found that the DNA matched DNA on file in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation database, leading to an investigation of a new suspect. No arrests have been made yet, the GBI says.

Maxwell said her organization is working with state lawmakers and authorities to require all law enforcement agencies to develop and follow clearly written procedures for doing an eyewitness identification with a victim, Maxwell said. The organization says 82 percent of the 355 Georgia law enforcement agencies surveyed do not have any type of written eyewitness standards.

White was joined at the news conference by his wife, three sisters and his mother, Florence White.

"When they called to tell me that he was getting out, I didn't know whether to shout, cry or holler," said his mother, who lives in Meriwether County. "I'm so glad to have him back home one more time before I leave this world."

In North Carolina, meanwhile, charges were dropped Tuesday against a Charlotte man who spent seven years on death row in the killing of a jeweler.

Jonathan Hoffman had been convicted of killing 35-year-old Danny Cook at Cook's Marshville store in 1995, but he won a new trial in 2004.

Union County District Attorney John Snyder said he dismissed charges because two witnesses have died and the prosecution's star witness, Hoffman's cousin, eventually recanted his testimony.

"What you had at the first trial is just not there," Snyder said.

Defense attorney Joseph Cheshire said it wasn't clear when Hoffman would be released.

Hoffman was in disbelief when told about the dropped charges, Cheshire said.

"He just couldn't believe it," Cheshire said. "He was surprised something so dramatic in his life could happen in such a low-key way."

Associated Press writer Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Harris County getting help in review of troubled crime lab

December 7, 2007

By Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press Writer

A legal group that specializes in overturning wrongful convictions is teaming up with Harris County in its efforts to review cases with questionable blood analysis work by the Houston Police Department's troubled crime lab.

The Innocence Project of Texas will help lawyers heading up a county review of 180 serology cases identified as having "major issues," officials said Friday.

The cases were identified in a final report earlier this year from a special investigator hired by the city of Houston to investigate the lab.

The Innocence Project of Texas chief counsel Jeff Blackburn said his organization usually finds itself at odds with government officials and prosecutors. His group is an offshoot of the Innocence Project, a New York-based legal clinic that has helped exonerate inmates across the country.

"This is a historic process that Harris County is getting involved in," Blackburn said.

The Houston crime lab's work has been under scrutiny since 2002, when the DNA section was shut down. Inaccuracies were later found in four other lab divisions that test firearms, body fluids and controlled substances. The DNA section has since been reopened.

Three inmates have been released from prison because of mistakes by the lab: two men wrongfully convicted of rape and another man convicted of kidnapping and rape whom prosecutors decided not to retry.

The cases being reviewed, some of which date to the 1980s, include several death row inmates and others convicted of violent crimes such as robbery and rape.

Retired state District Judge Mary Bacon, who is presiding over the probe, praised the Innocence Project's help with the review during a meeting Friday with defense attorneys and prosecutor Marie Munier, whose office had pledged its cooperation.

The Innocence Project of Texas will provide 40 to 50 law students in Houston, Dallas and Lubbock who can help attorneys review case files and sort through legal documents.

It'll be similar to what they have done in Dallas County, where the Innocence Project has teamed up with officials to review more than 400 cases in which inmates have requested DNA testing. Over the past five years, DNA tests have exonerated 14 inmates in Dallas County, Blackburn said.

In the first three months of the Dallas review, 57 cases have been evaluated. Of these, seven will have DNA testing, said Blackburn, an Amarillo-based attorney.

"We've learned that's a very efficient way of doing it," he said. "We can do the factory side of the work."

Bob Wicoff, one of the Houston defense lawyers assigned to lead the review, said the Innocence Project's help will be invaluable. It's impractical to either have attorneys assigned to each case and have them do all the work or to file legal challenges to each case without first doing research.

After Harris County judges announced plans in October to conduct the review, Wicoff held videoconference meetings with the 160 inmates, from the 180 cases, who are still in prison. All but four agreed to have their cases reopened.

Of the remaining 20 cases, half are inmates who have been executed and half have been freed from prison.

Wicoff said he will try to contact the freed inmates and see if they want to be included in the probe. But he doesn't have the resources or time to look into the cases of executed inmates.

Since the videoconferences, Wicoff has visited with 14 inmates. A second attorney, Christopher Downey, has been appointed to help Wicoff.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bill Would Give Tax Break to Exonerated Prisoners

December 7, 2007

By Fernanda Santos, The New York Times

Seven months after his release from prison in 2001, after serving 15 years for a rape he did not commit, David Pope received $385,000 in compensation from the State of Texas and set out to rebuild his life: He rented an apartment, bought a car, helped his mother pay bills and traveled overseas for the first time.

The money did not last long, but being broke is not the only problem Mr. Pope, 46, has grappled with since his exoneration. He said the Internal Revenue Service has notified him that he owes $90,000 in federal taxes on the compensation he received for his wrongful conviction, but he has no idea how he is going to settle the debt.

“I didn’t know I had to pay taxes over it until the government started sending me letters,” said Mr. Pope, who has struggled to find a steady job.

Yesterday, a bill that would exempt exonerated prisoners from paying federal income taxes on compensation received for a wrongful conviction was introduced by Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York. The measure pushes the issue of taxation to the forefront of the debate over how to compensate the wrongly convicted properly for the years they spent behind bars.

“The criminal justice system is not perfect, so at the very least, we ought to do what we can to make amends to the people who were wrongly convicted — a very small number of people who pay a big, big price for those mistakes,” Mr. Schumer said. “The compensation they receive should not be taxed; that’s certainly like throwing salt on a very deep wound.”

The bill, called the Wrongful Convictions Tax Relief Act, would also exempt exonerated prisoners who do not have prior felony convictions from paying income taxes on up to $50,000 earned each year after their release from prison (or up to $75,000 if they file joint tax returns) and provide them with an income tax credit on payroll taxes paid over the same earnings.

More than 200 people nationwide have been exonerated by DNA evidence since 1989, and more than 400 have been cleared by other types of evidence.

To date, 22 states have passed legislation establishing parameters for financial compensation; three of them — California, Massachusetts and Vermont — have provisions exempting exonerated prisoners from paying state taxes on the money they receive.

But federal laws are unclear as to whether compensation for a wrongful conviction should be considered income and taxed, like punitive damages are, or if it should be treated as a personal-injury award, which is not subjected to taxes, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman said.

Some exonerated prisoners have successfully challenged the I.R.S. in court and were then cleared of paying taxes. Most, however, either pay or stay in delinquency, said Barry C. Scheck, a lawyer and co-founder of the Innocence Project, a legal clinic at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan.

The benefits proposed in the bill, co-sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, would stay in effect for the number of years an exonerated prisoner served time or for 15 years, whichever is less. The federal tax exemption over compensation awards would apply to people like Mr. Pope, who have already been released and have been told they owe taxes to the federal government.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sloppy Police Lab Work in New York Leads to Retesting of Drug Samples

December 4, 2007

By Thomas J. Lueck, The New York Times

The New York Police Department has begun to test thousands of drug evidence samples, as a review by the state’s inspector general has found that sloppy work by analysts in the department’s crime laboratory could have skewed drug evidence used by prosecutors.

But since the mistakes in the laboratory, the nation’s busiest, were found to have been made in 2002, some of the evidence has been destroyed, making any new tests very difficult, according to the review, which was released yesterday. Legal experts said this could open the door to appeals by those who want to have their convictions overturned or their sentences shortened.

The slipshod drug testing — which may have involved “dry-labbing,” or failing to test all the bags when many were seized — has been acknowledged by the Police Department, which transferred or disciplined three technicians who failed internal tests of their accuracy in 2002. Since 2002, the lab has been revamped and restaffed.

The department has said that the errors did not rise to the level of a criminal offense. But in March, the office of the state inspector general, Kristine Hamann, began its own investigation, and has now come to a different conclusion.

“The integrity of evidence is a cornerstone of law enforcement,” Ms. Hamann said yesterday. “These lapses were a threat not only to the prosecution of drug crimes, but to the public’s trust in our criminal justice system.”

She recommended that the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, consider criminal charges against the three former analysts, known as criminalists, and against W. Mark Dale, a former director of the criminal laboratory who retired in 2004. Attempts to reach Mr. Dale by phone last night were unsuccessful.

The drugs seized by the police are often the most important evidence in prosecutions, which can also involve witness testimony, often from undercover police officers who made drug purchases. The amount seized usually affects the severity of sentencing.

Since May, the report said, the Police Department has recalled for review evidence from 3,000 drug testing cases, including those performed by the three former criminalists and others who worked in the laboratory in 2002. Five analysts and a supervisor have been assigned to the review.

But by late September, the investigation hit a roadblock, after a property clerk determined that evidence for 709 of the 3,000 cases had been destroyed. So far, the report said, 413 cases have been reviewed, and “the laboratory states that no significant discrepancies have been discovered that would compromise the original findings.”

The inspector general’s report said that the 2002 drug testing errors were not brought to the attention of state officials until March 2007, and that the five intervening years had left a cold trail of evidence that had been destroyed or contaminated, making it difficult to determine how accurate the original testing had been.

It said officials of the crime laboratory also failed to inform the Laboratory Accreditation Board of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, an oversight group it had pledged to keep informed of any lapses in testing procedures.

Ms. Hamann said yesterday that the five-year lapse made it impossible to tell if others at the city laboratory, which employs 100 criminalists, had taken shortcuts in the sometimes tedious process of drug testing.

“If there had been a thorough investigation at the time, we might know,” she said. “The N.Y.P.D. is now valiantly trying to catch up, but I don’t think anyone can know” the extent to which erroneous drug test may have been used in prosecutions.

Peter Neufeld, a lawyer and co-founder of the Innocence Project, a legal group based in New York that uses DNA evidence to represent people it thinks have been wrongly convicted, said the inspector general’s findings “undermine God knows how many convictions” in drug cases. He said he expected many motions to dismiss or to amend the severity of sentences that are based on the amount or weight of the illegal substance tied to a defendant.

Both the police and Ms. Hamann said yesterday that major strides had been made by the crime laboratory since 2002, which was the first year of Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly’s current tenure as the head of the department. (He also was police commissioner for slightly more than 14 months under former Mayor David N. Dinkins.)

Paul J. Browne, a spokesman for the department, said the laboratory’s management had been revamped and a committee of police officials and civilian forensic scientists had been set up to review its procedures. An inspection in October by the Laboratory Accreditation Board found that the lab satisfied more than 98 percent of the board’s criteria, including quality assurance, staffing and evidence storage.

But the report said senior officials in charge of the laboratory had been far too slow to respond when evidence of inaccurate drug testing was found in 2002, and allowed the same criminalists who failed internal tests to remain on the job. One was suspended after she failed a second internal test, but was responsible for 23 drug cases after she failed the first time, the report said, and another worked on 11 tests between his first and second internal tests, both of which he failed. Both criminalists should have been removed after failing a single test, the report said.

“The lab cannot conclusively state that no incorrect reports were issued by the three employees,” the report said.

Mr. Browne said advanced technology was being used to analyze the old drug evidence, even where the evidence had been destroyed or contaminated. In some cases, he said, the laboratory is taking scrapings from envelopes in which the now-discarded powder had been sealed.

The department has also changed its methods to avoid similar problems in the future, Mr. Browne said.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Putting a Price on a Wrongful Conviction

December 2, 2007

By Fernanda Santos and Janet Roberts, The New York Times

William Gregory and David Pope were both convicted of rape. Mr. Gregory served seven years in a Kentucky prison and Mr. Pope was imprisoned by Texas for 15 years before being released because of new DNA evidence.

Mr. Gregory, 59, now lives at the edge of a golf course, in a five-bedroom house he bought with part of the $4.6 million he received in legal settlements. Mr. Pope, 46, received $385,000 from the State of Texas.

To the extent that they got money, they are among the lucky ones. Of the more than 200 people released from prison since 1989 on the basis of new DNA evidence, 38 percent have received nothing for the years they spent behind bars.

What are those lost years worth?

States have been wrestling with that question in recent years as the DNA revolution upended long-held notions about the reliability of evidence. And a new question has also emerged: Is money alone enough?

With more than 140 exonerated prisoners released since 2000, 22 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. California offers $100 a day. Tennessee provides up to $1 million total.

Twenty-eight states offer nothing — including states with multiple cases of discredited convictions — forcing former inmates to sue in state or federal court. There they have the difficult task of proving bad faith or intentional misconduct by authorities. But when they succeed, as Mr. Gregory did, the payouts can be substantial.

Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., has argued that many exonerated prisoners may not be innocent, but have been released because there was not enough evidence to retry them after DNA tests raised questions about their convictions. But in instances where clearly innocent people have been convicted, he said, “they are owed a tremendous amount.”

Some states do not have compensation laws, a result of budget constraints, other priorities, and, in some cases, suspicions that some exonerated prisoners may actually be guilty. This has left many with the courts as their only source of redress.

“Once you open up those floodgates, where do you get all the money to pay for these falsely charged people?” asked state Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone of Pennsylvania, co-chairman of that state’s House Judiciary Committee, where a compensation bill recently stalled. “How much money is it going to require? How much is a person worth?”

Nine people in Pennsylvania have been freed on the strength of DNA evidence after spending an average of 14 years in prison. But, said Representative Caltagirone, a Democrat, “there is no political will to push it forward.”

In Florida, where six people have been freed, lawmakers have battled for three years over a compensation plan that would exclude those with prior criminal histories.

“I believe the taxpayer would be horribly offended if their money were to be spent compensating an exonerated prisoner who has a history of serious crimes,” said State Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Republican.

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.”

As the extent of those impairments has become clearer, exonerated prisoners and their advocates now argue that more than compensation is required.

“One of the biggest challenges is that once an innocent person comes out of prison, they are not equipped with the tools to reintegrate into society, and that’s something that money alone can’t solve,” said Representative Donald M. Payne, a New Jersey Democrat who introduced a bill to set aside $1.25 million a year for programs for exonerated prisoners.

Of the states with compensation laws, only three — Massachusetts, Louisiana and Vermont — provide for the costs of medical and psychological care.

Most of the exonerated who get money waited two to three years, forcing them to rely on family, friends, lawyers and even strangers for shelter, clothing, food and emotional support immediately after their release.

Some of those needs persist even for those who have been paid. Despite the millions he received, Mr. Gregory says he still suffers from bouts of paranoia and sometimes breaks down. Mr. Pope’s $385,000 is long gone, spent on rent, clothes and a new car. Last summer, he was unemployed and living with his mother.

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.”

Mr. Hunt, 42, used some of the $2 million he received to start a program that has offered such services as education, counseling, job training and housing assistance to about 400 ex-convicts, including some exonerated prisoners.

Several similar initiatives have sprouted nationwide, but all have struggled to secure funding; also, they often fail to tap into existing services. California is weighing a plan that would do just that by providing services already made available to paroled prisoners, including educational aid, vocational training and counseling, among others.

In New York, a bill has been drafted that would allow the wrongly convicted to receive services from agencies that already serve other needy populations, such as families on welfare.

“We’re really still learning how to best make these people whole,” said Stephen Saloom, policy director at the Innocence Project, which has helped to exonerate many prisoners. “And the reason it has taken us so long is that we’re really just starting to accept the imperfections of our judicial system and admit that mistakes do happen.”