Innocence Project of Florida to Rally for State’s Victims of Wrongful Imprisonment
The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) will sponsor a rally on the steps of the old Capitol on the first day of the legislative session, Tuesday, March 4th, at 12:00 noon. The project hopes to draw attention to the plight of Florida’s innocent victims of wrongful incarceration, most of whom still wait for compensation from the state.
Two of those victims, Alan Crotzer and Wilton Dedge, plan to attend. (Dedge, released after 22 years, was awarded $2 million in 2005. Crotzer, who served 24.5 years, has a separate claims bill pending this session.) The rally was prompted, in part, by Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff’s filing of House Bill 1025, The Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, which IPF refers to as ”un bel nulla” (a beautiful nothing) on its web site’s blog.
“On the surface, the bill looks really good,” says Seth Miller, IPF’s Executive Director. “In addition to paying a set amount for each year of wrongful incarceration, it also provides up to120 hours of tuition at a state college or university, a process for expunging of criminal records relating to the wrongful conviction, and reimbursements for psychological services and health insurance premiums.”
So what’s the problem? Miller says “the very big problem is that HB 1025 would not pay a single one of Florida’s nine exonerees.”
The major obstacle to payment, although Miller says it’s not the only one, seems to be a so-called “clean-hands” provision, specifically if “prior to his or her wrongful conviction and incarceration, the person was a convicted felon.” The Innocence Project of Florida objects to this provision because, according to Miller, “in a lot of cases, it’s a prior conviction that provides law enforcement with an individual’s identity or picture in the first place. Then they stick them in a live or photo lineup where they’re misidentified, and, voila, another wrongful incarceration.” Innocence Project statistics attribute more than 75% of wrongful incarcerations to eyewitness misidentification.
“We were really hopeful that the legislature was seriously interested in helping Florida’s exonerees this session,” says Jenny Greenberg, Policy Director for IPF. “We’ve supported Sen. Arthenia Joyner’s bill (SB 756) since it was filed in early December. Now we’re being told that someone else in the Senate will be filing a companion bill to Rep. Bogdanoff’s.”
This troubles Greenberg, who has spent the last three sessions at the Capitol trying to get a global compensation bill passed, that is, one that would automatically pay people who were imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. “Just last year, two Senate committees and one House committee unanimously passed similar bills without a clean-hands provision,” she said. “We don’t understand why this has suddenly become an issue.”
Sen. Joyner’s bill also includes a clean-hands provision, although it casts a much narrower net, excluding only those previously designated as” violent career criminals.”
The Innocence Project of Florida, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping wrongfully imprisoned citizens prove their innocence through the use of DNA testing. Since 2000, nine innocent people have been exonerated in Florida through the use of DNA testing. To find out more you can visit the project’s web site at www.floridainnocence.org.