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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ind. Gov't. - Proposed compensation fund for those wrongfully convicted

Madeline Buckley reported earlier this week in the Indianapolis Star:

[23 people] have been officially exonerated in Indiana, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. They lost their jobs, freedom and family. They maintained their innocence as they lived for years, even decades, in Indiana prisons.

And they are largely on their own when they return to society and try to build a life. But lawmakers are trying to change that.

With bipartisan support, legislators have proposed two different bills that would establish a fund to compensate people for time spent imprisoned if they are exonerated by DNA evidence. The two bills — identical except for the amount of money offered — are a good start, experts say.

But the effort also shows how far Indiana still has to go before it catches up with other states that do far more for those who are wrongfully convicted.

"Indiana is still in the Stone Age,"[Willie Donald spent 24 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit] said. * * *

If the measures pass, Indiana will join the 32 states that have compensation funds to help those who were wrongfully convicted start new lives. Such laws also help inoculate the state against lawsuits, as those seeking compensation give up their right to sue.

The measures already have the backing of both Democrat and Republican lawmakers — even though they haven't, at the outset, agreed on the level of compensation.

Rep. Greg Steurerwald, R-Avon, authored a bill offering compensation people wrongfully convicted. It was assigned to the Committee on Courts and Criminal Codes, of which Steurerwald is a majority member.

"These are innocent people," Steurerwald said, noting that the fund offers an alternative to a lawsuit. "Their lives have been disrupted and/or destroyed because of wrongful conviction."

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, who submitted another bill, said he was inspired by an IndyStar series that told the stories of the wrongfully convicted in Indiana. In particular, he noted the story of Keith Cooper, who pleaded to the governor's office for a pardon to erase his armed robbery conviction after the evidence against him fell apart. He served a decade in prison before he struck a deal with prosecutors for his release. * * *

Debate will likely focus on the amount of money the state should offer to people who have been exonerated. Porter's bill offers $35,000 per year imprisoned. Steurerwald's offers $25,000.

Both figures are on the low end. Texas, which has one of the most robust compensation laws in the nation, offers $80,000 per year of incarceration. Model legislation from the Innocence Project suggests a starting point of $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment, adjusted for inflation, and $100,000 per year on death row.

ILB: There is much more to read in this long story. One thing missing, however, is the bill numbers.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 24, 2017 09:33 AM
Posted to Indiana Government