When Maryland prosecutors dropped murder charges against Adnan Syed, he had already spent 22 years in prison, USA Today reports. "Today, justice is done," said Marilyn Mosby, the state's attorney for the city of Baltimore, in announcing Syed had been released. For many wrongfully incarcerated individuals, justice isn't just being released from prison. It often means taking on a new battle to be compensated for lost time. On average, 2021 exonerees spent over 11 years wrongfully imprisoned, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. In most cases, simply being freed from prison after a wrongful conviction doesn't automatically mean an exoneree will be paid.
Syed, whose story was chronicled and brought to national attention in the podcast “Serial,” was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999. In September, prosecutors said they no longer had faith in the case against Syed. In mid-October, he was released after prosecutors said DNA evidence cleared him. If he were to seek payment, Syed would be among thousands of people forced to prove their innocence again if they want to receive compensation for the time they lost in prison. The path to compensation often is dependent on state rules. In some states, being exonerated alone isn't proof enough. Evidence that secured a person's release might not be enough to secure payment for years lost in prison. Wrongfully convicted people across the country regularly seek justice in a patchwork of ways. Sometimes, they receive tens of millions of dollars for their time in prison – and sometimes, they get nothing at all.