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Report: Criminal Justice System Errors Cost Taxpayers Millions In California

Report: Criminal Justice System Errors Cost Taxpayers Millions In California


Rebecca Silbert, executive director, Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law & Social Policy


A new study says mistakes in California's criminal justice system cost taxpayers $282 million between 1989 and 2012.

The report, “Criminal Injustice: A Cost Analysis of Wrongful Convictions, Errors, and Failed Prosecutions in California’s Criminal Justice System,” is a joint project by UC Berkeley School of Law and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Rebecca Silbert, executive director of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law & Social Policy, said her interest in wrongful convictions got her started.

“Often times there’s no agreement about whether someone is innocent enough to be considered wrongfully convicted,” Silbert said.

The report doesn’t consider guilt or innocence. Researchers looked at the cost and that can be significant if someone is charged, prosecuted, arrested and convicted. And then that conviction is thrown out of court.

“If there are errors in the system, if someone is prosecuted and the conviction is thrown out of court, that’s something to examine, whether or not you think the person is innocent,” Silbert said.

“Prosecutorial misconduct was responsible for the largest amount of cost in our study,” Silbert said. “It is not necessarily more common than other types of errors but it is an extremely costly error.”

Cases involving that type of error tend to take longer to work their way through the system and the misconduct often directly ties to the person involved in the case. One example would be a prosecutor keeping evidence out of the criminal proceedings. The person wrongfully convicted stays in jail while the misconduct is litigated.

“We documented a minimum of $68 million in settlements,” Silbert said.

Researchers identified 692 felony cases that were ultimately thrown out due to "faulty proceedings."

“If we want our system to be better we should be thinking about it more systematically,” Silbert said.

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