The National Registry of Exonerations stated in a report that in the year 2013, 87 exonerations were documented in 2013. As of early August 2014, the registry had documented 1,408 cases of exoneration dating back to 1989.
One of those cases involved Joseph Awe, who was charged and convicted with arson after the pub he owned ignited in flames. Awe, a disabled Gulf War veteran, figured the charges against him were a mistake that would be straightened out. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and served just shy of the entire sentence.
Awe had not set his pub on fire, but he was not heard until his prison sentence was nearly up. In 2011, the Wisconsin State Journal published articles questioning the neutrality of the hired experts and presented opinions of independent fire experts who concluded that electrical problems caused the fire. It turned out that the arson experts who testified for the prosecution were hired by the insurance company, which had a stake in the outcome. Awe filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted in March 2013, and prosecutors dismissed the charge in April.
Despite being exonerated, Awe has trouble sleeping and suffers other psychological problems. Prison left him edgy, nervous, and on the defensive.
The federal government, the District of Columbia, and 30 states have compensation statutes of some form for wrongly convicted individuals. But 20 states do not, leaving wrongfully convicted individuals with the option to sue the state that convicted them.
If a suit is brought against a state, a wrongfully convicted individual can use a vocational expert’s help to prove damages. A vocational expert can show how time in prison not only led to lost income, but inhibited the individual’s ability to establish him/herself professionally. The expert can also establish the harm that a criminal record has on hiring prospects, considering that criminal records are rarely cleared despite innocence.
Edmond Provder, owner of Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. (OAS), is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. He has worked as a vocational expert witness for over forty years, and has extensive experience documenting employability and earning capacity. He has worked for severely wrongfully incarcerated persons some of them exonerated by the “Innocent Project”. Contact OAS at 800-292-1919 to discuss how we can help in your case.