Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conspiracy (at its new home at the Washington Post) writes about the moral responsibility of government to compensate people who are wrongfully incarcerated, with reference to this piece in the Chicago Tribune about two exonerated men in Illinois:
The case for adequate compensation is particularly strong in cases where innocent people were imprisoned because of misconduct by law enforcement officials. In one of the cases described in the Chicago Tribune article, officials apparently went ahead with a prosecution for murder despite the fact that police records indicated that defendant was actually in police custody at the time the crime was committed. If this is true, it is a serious case of official misconduct.
But compensation is also morally required even in cases where innocent people were convicted and punished despite the fact that officials acted in good faith. Some number of innocent people will be convicted in even the best possible criminal justice system. Even the most ethical and competent police, prosecutors, judges, and juries will occasionally make unavoidable errors. When such mistakes are discovered, it is unjust to force wrongly imprisoned innocents to bear the full cost of the error. If these mistakes are unavoidable byproducts of a justice system intended to benefit all of society, then their costs should be paid by society as a whole rather than arbitrarily imposed on a few unlucky individuals.
For the State Bar's position on legislation to compensate wrongful imprisonment, click here.