Lawmakers to Consider Expanding Wrongly-Convicted Compensation
A law compensating people released after time in prison for crimes they didn't commit could be expanded, under a bill now moving through the Florida House.
Currently, state law enables wrongfully incarcerated prisoners to receive $50,000 for each year behind bars. But it prohibits the filing of claims by those previously convicted of an unrelated violent crime – the so-called “Clean Hands Provision.”
“House Bill 259 removes the bar to compensate for a person who has been convicted of a violent felony or non-violent multiple felonies, prior to the person’s wrongful conviction and incarceration,” said State Rep. Bobby DuBose (D–Ft. Lauderdale) – the measure’s sponsor.
He also outlined two amendments to the original. One would strip “Clean Hands” from the existing statute, and extend the deadline to file for compensation.
“Under the current law, a person must petition for compensation within 90 days after the final order vacating the conviction and sentence; and the person must submit proof of actual innocence,” DuBose told the subcommittee. “The effects of this amendment will extend the filing deadline from 90 days to within two years.”
The second amendment would deal with limits on civil litigation.
“It removes requirements for a wrongfully incarcerated person to release the state or any agency, or any political subdivision thereof from all claims arising out the facts relating to the person’s wrongful incarceration.”
It would also would take down barriers and allow for the application for compensation if the person has a pending lawsuit.
Also appearing before the subcommittee was Herman Lindsey -- Florida’s 23rd death row exonoree who was exonerated in 2009.
Lindsey was convicted in 2006 of the robbery-murder of a pawn shop owner in 1994. But the Florida Supreme Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to link him to the crimes. Lindsey is now a Board Member of the group Witness to Innocence – made up of exonerated death row survivors and their relatives.
“Florida leads the nation in death row exonorees; 29 or 30 right now,” Lindsey told the panel. “When we are arrested, we scream out our innocence and then mistakenly convicted of a crime we did not commit. And then we’re placed on death row and we have to sit there and watch people executed. And we have to wonder one day, are we going to be the ones executed?”
Since his release, Lindsey says jobs have been hard to come by, and health insurance impossible to get. HB 259, he contends, would allow others placed in a similar situation to feel some gratitude for being able to somewhat normalize their lives after prison.
“Because, honestly, how would you feel?” asked Lindsey. “You just got convicted and sentenced to die; if that’s what you’re taking your family through, what you’re taking – the mental trauma,” said Lindsey. “You don’t get no help, no apologies; and you’re just booted out there into a hard life.”
“You’re the second person that I’ve had the opportunity to meet, that has been wrongfully convicted and having proven their innocence,” said subcommittee chairman J.W. Grant (R-Tampa). “Members, I encourage you to spend some time with one of these folks. One of the things I’m blown away by is the amount of grace that ya’ll carry – that I’m not sure I could.”
Grant told Lindsey and the entire gallery that the early consideration of the bill was not a coincidence.
“I want you to know there’s a reason this bill is up in Week-1 in this committee; I want you to know there’s a reason that Rep. DuBose, myself and my staff are working on it,” said Grant. “Because at the end of the day we cannot possibly give you back time; and we cannot possibly give you back everything. But we can relentlessly pursue justice to try and make it right. So, thank you for coming up here today.”
The subcommittee approved HB 259 on a 15-0 vote. It now moves on to the House Appropriations Committee.