James Tillman was exonerated a few months ago and last week, the CT legislature voted to compensate him $5 million. On the other hand, Alan Cortzer was denied $1.25 million in compensation by Florida’s legislature. So, this CSM story asks, what do states owe the exonerated? (HT: Corrections Sentencing)
This is a question that an increasing number of states have had to answer in recent years, with the good work of defense attorneys and the Innocence Project, brought about by an advancement in DNA technology and science. But are states adequately prepared to deal with the exonerated? Should there be any remuneration for those wrongfully convicted?
As DNA exonerations become more plentiful – and more publicized – some states are moving on the compensation front. Of the 200 men who have been exonerated based on DNA evidence, about 45 percent have received some sort of compensation, according to the Innocence Project, with amounts that range from $25,000 to $12.2 million.
Twenty-one states, along with the federal government and the District of Columbia, now have standardized compensation laws on the books – offering exonerees amounts ranging from $15,000 total to $50,000 per year of imprisonment. Thirteen states have introduced bills this year to either create or improve compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Some of those bills, like the one that gave Mr. Tillman $5 million, dealt only with individual prisoners, but other states are trying to standardize the compensation.
Texas, where 13 men have been exonerated in Dallas County alone, is considering a package of bills that would, among other things, raise the compensation amount from $25,000 to $50,000 per year of incarceration.
Vermont – which hasn’t yet had a prisoner exonerated by DNA evidence – has passed a comprehensive bill that would provide between $30,000 and $60,000 per year of incarceration as well as access to healthcare and reintegration services. It’s currently awaiting the governor’s signature.
Connecticut did have a bill proposed this session that would have studied the creation of a standardized system, but it didn’t make it past committee.
But these are states that are providing for compensation. What about those that aren’t, like Florida? What of the Alan Cortzers?
“In Florida, if you’re a parolee they give you $100 and a bus ticket,” says Michael Olenick, the Tallahassee attorney who represented Crotzer pro bono. “Al Crotzer got no bus ticket, and no $100.”
He also didn’t get access to counseling, and he says he’s struggled with some things since his release: He still wants to turn his light off at 11:47 every night, for instance, and he keeps everything in his room neat enough to pass a cell inspection.
Neither Mr. Olenick nor Crotzer can be sure why the request for $1.25 million failed, especially after the Florida House unanimously approved it. Senate leaders said they didn’t have the money – a common reason that states cite in not providing compensation. In Crotzer’s case, some also suggested that lawmakers didn’t want to grant any more individual compensation bills, but instead wanted to pass a “global” bill that would address all cases. However, the three such bills that were introduced in past years didn’t go anywhere.
Some believe Crotzer may also have been hurt by the fact that he was convicted of a beer store robbery when he was 18 – a fact that would have excluded him from compensation under one of the laws proposed in Florida.
So what do you think? What would be adequate compensation? Here are some of the laws already on the books:
California: $100 per day of incarceration
Montana: Educational aid for those exonerated through postconviction DNA testing
New Hampshire: Maximum of $20,000
New Jersey: Whichever is greater – twice the amount of the claimant’s income in the year prior to incarceration or $20,000, for each year of incarceration
Tennessee: Maximum total of $1 million