All charges may have been dropped before they came to court but Julia Mashela still paid a heavy price for her years on remand behind bars as a victim of South Africa's creaking justice system.
"My children dropped out of school, my husband, we divorced, my business collapsed, my houses were auctioned, my cars -- everything was gone," the businesswoman-turned-campaigner said
"I lost about 7 million rand [US$950,000]. I was stigmatized after I came out of prison, nobody wanted to identify with me, not even my family," she said.
The plight of Mashela -- who had faced charges of murder, robbery and drug-running as an alleged crime kingpin -- may have been at the extreme end of the scale but it is hardly unique in a justice system which has nearly 50,000 people behind bars while awaiting trial.
That figure includes about 5,700 foreigners who often find themselves unable to raise money for their defense and without a voice to press for their freedom.
Mashela, who was finally released in December 1999 after more than six years in prison, has used her time on the outside to fight for the rights of those awaiting trial as well as those of children born in prison.
"I was a victim of a very cruel justice system," she says in her office in Pretoria, which is adorned with a picture of her with South African President Thabo Mbeki.
"The present system, inherited from the apartheid regime, is not solving the problem of crime as it does not focus on presumption of innocence of an accused nor attempt to prepare a convict for after-jail life," she said.
At the height of apartheid, the whites-only regime which ruled South Africa until 1994, tens of thousands of anti-government activists were kept behind bars without trial under emergency rule.
Since then, the jails have been kept full as the authorities battle to contain one of the world's highest crime rates.
The latest official figures show that 162,587 inmates are housed in South Africa's 240 overcrowded prisons, 49,716 of them are awaiting trial. The prisons were build to accommodate 113,825 inmates.
Until mid-May, Angolan businessman Sergio Joao Christiano formed part of those statistics after being detained since 1999 on charges of rape, robbery, fraud, housebreaking and murder.
With help from Mashela's organization, the Dream Foundation, the 35-year-old finally tasted freedom again when all the charges were dropped.
Like Mashela, he is also still counting the financial and personal cost of his lengthy incarceration.
"I feel bitter and very angry with the justice system in South Africa," he said.
"I was kept in jail for over seven years without trial, treated badly, my business was grounded, my wife divorced me, my three cars were seized, my bank account was frozen and I was assaulted several times in prison," he said.
Tobile Nene, a Johannesburg-based rights lawyer, said that lengthy spells on remand were indefensible in the post-apartheid era.
"Long detention without trial is criminal, reprehensible and unconstitutional. It should have died with the apartheid regime in 1994. Now we are in democracy," he said.
Sheila Camerer, a member of parliament for the opposition Democratic Alliance, slammed the justice department as flat-footed, under-staffed and poorly-funded in its effort to dispense justice in a paper she presented in the parliament last month.