Presumed Guilty until Proven Innocent: The Burden of Proof in Wrongful Conviction Claims under State Compensation Statutes

Despite significant efforts to uncover and prevent wrongful convictions, little attention has been paid to the compensation of wrongfully convicted individuals once they are released from prison. State compensation statutes offer the best path to redress because they do not require the claimant to prove that the state was at fault for the wrongful conviction and because they are not susceptible to the same political influences as other methods of compensation. However, even under compensation statutes, too many meritorious claims are dismissed, settled for far too little, or never brought in the first place. After examining the current statutory framework, this Article analyzes the arguments for and against one potential solution to this problem that so far has not been considered-shifting the burden of proof to the state on the issue of innocence. Currently, the jurisdictions that have enacted statutes require that the claimant prove his or her innocence in order to recover compensation. Shifting the burden to the state to prove that the claimant is guilty would be more efficient because the state has better access to the relevant evidence, it could rely exclusively on the criminal trial transcript, and it is in a better position to bear the costs of litigation and to determine when to settle. Although this solution implicates several concerns, these concerns can be addressed through checks already built into the criminal justice system and by adjustments that can be made to the compensation statutes.