State Indemnity for Errors of Criminal Justice

Edwin Borchard, Yale Law School


All too frequently the public is shocked by the news that Federal or State authorities have convicted and imprisoned a person subsequently proved to have been innocent of any crime. These accidents in the administration of the criminal law happen either through an unfortunate concurrence of circumstances or perjured testimony or are the result of mistaken identity, the conviction having been obtained by zealous prosecuting attorneys on circumstantial evidence. In an earnest effort to compensate in some measure the victims of these miscarriages of justice, Congress in May 1938 enacted a law "to grant relief to persons erroneously convicted in courts of the United States." Under this law, any person who can prove that he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced for a crime against the United States may bring suit in the Court of Claims against the Federal Government for damages of not more than $5,000.