This past Sunday, in the most recent installment of its Stolen Lives series, the Orlando Sentinel looked at the issue of exoneree compensation in Florida and that while exonerees spend decades in prison for someone else’s time, the State is quite unwilling to pay them when they get out:
Three years ago, Florida lawmakers passed a bill designed to pay people such as Bostic, Boquete and Caravella who should have never been sent to prison: If you were wrongfully convicted, you would get $50,000 for each year you were locked up.
But so far, none of the 12 Florida men cleared by DNA has been able to collect a penny under that statute. That’s because it includes a “clean hands” provision — language that bars the state from paying anyone who has a felony conviction. Only one of the 12 meets that standard.
That one who meets the standard, Jamie Bain, has yet to be paid, as the State is dragging its feet on approving his application for compensation for his 35 years of wrongful incarceration, which we filed in September 2010. So instead, the politicians who were proponents of the “clean hands” provision take credit for passing a bill with illusory impact and, in some cases, get promoted, while the uncompensated exonerees who spent years in prison pressing license plates or making furniture for government office, all for pennies, live in relative poverty. Some lawyers who are representing or have represented exonerees in compensation battles are exasperated by this outcome:
“It’s just crazy,” said John Blue, a former judge on the Second District Court of Appeal in Tampa who tried but failed to convince legislators in 2008 to take out that restriction.
“It’s a nice bill. It looks good on paper, but it eliminates at least 90 percent of the people,” said Barbara Heyer, a Fort Lauderdale civil-rights lawyer who represents Caravella. She says he can’t collect because he has some form of juvenile record “that no one seems to be able to produce.”
We agree. SB 250 has been filed in the Senate (no House companion) to makes some changes to the compensation law. Conspicuously absent is any repeal of the “clean hands” provision. If you think we should do better, you can call the sponsor of the bill, Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) at (813) 233-4277 in her Tampa office or at (850) 487-5059 in her Tallahassee office.