Wrongful conviction cases are litigated in two basic stages. The first step is to exonerate (absolve from blame) the criminal defendant. This is usually done by filing a motion to vacate the conviction in state or federal court.  If the motion is successful, the result may be exoneration or the granting of a new trial. If a new trial is granted, exoneration does not occur until the charges are dismissed or there is an acquittal after the new trial. 

The second step occurs after a criminal defendant is exonerated. The exoneree may then bring a wrongful conviction claim and/or a civil rights action for compensation depending on the circumstances of the exoneration.