Lots going on in the world of compensation for exonerees. This issue regained some traction in the last few weeks with an article in the Orlando Sentinel, which we discussed here. This has led many to openly question why so many guys who were so clearly wrongfully convicted and incarcerated won’t be compensated. The editorial staff of the Orlando Sentinel, notes in an editorial entitled Florida’s Dirty Hands:
Sure, it’s a tough budget year for Florida. But what a lame excuse for failing to right a terrible wrong.
Three years ago, the Legislature passed a bill authorizing payments for people who are wrongly convicted and sent to prison. The measure designated payments of up to $50,000 for each year they were erroneously locked up. That’s a pretty fair price for wrongfully denying someone their liberty.
The problem is the so-called “clean hands” provision — a provision which, as the Orlando Sentinel reported Sunday, has meant that none of the 12 men cleared by DNA has received a nickel. Some now live in poverty. The “clean hands” provision bars the state from paying anyone who has a previous felony conviction prior to the wrongful incarceration. Even if the person served his time for that earlier conviction, then was later wrongly imprisoned for decades for a crime he did not commit, he still can’t collect.
What a glaringly obvious injustice.
Fred Grimm, of the Miami Herald, has a much more bombastic take on this law:
All this talk about compensation for wrongful convictions. Not in Florida. Not for the likes of Anthony Caravella.
Why, it’s Caravella who owes Florida — $71.93 a day. Comes to $682,615.70 for the 26 years Anthony mooched room and board off the Florida penal system, taking up valuable prison space for a crime someone committed.
The lousy freeloader. He’s damn lucky the Florida Legislature doesn’t send him a bill.
. . .
Florida did pass a Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act three years ago, after an embarrassing slew of convictions were reversed, most after DNA testing. The law authorized paying innocents $50,000 for every year spent behind bars. It was an “illusory impact,” said Seth Miller, director of the Florida Innocence Project. Miller said the law included a “clean hands” provision that disqualifies a wrongfully convicted prisoner with a prior felony conviction.
“Clean hands” proved to be brilliant money saver for Florida (the only state with such a proviso). Cops don’t find their patsies on the membership rolls of the chamber of commerce. Miramar police knew Caravella from a string of juvenile offenses – the same crimes that now preclude him from compensation.
None of the dozen convicted men cleared by DNA testing in Florida have received compensation. A Sun Sentinel reporter found several afflicted with poverty, living off food stamps. Caravella had spent time in a homeless shelter. Only one, James Bain, who did 35 years of hard time, qualifies under “clean hands” and will likely get his money.
After all, William Dillon, who did 27 years on a trumped up murder conviction, had been busted in 1979 for possession of a single Quaalude. Of course, he’s out of the money. In a Kafka-like twist, Orlando Boquete, who did 13 years for a murder and robbery he didn’t commit, doesn’t qualify because he managed to escape prison while serving his wrongful sentence. Luis Diaz, the so-called Bird Road Rapist of Miami-Dade County who, as it turned out, wasn’t, did 25 years. Sorry, Luis. No money.
The list goes on; ruined lives for whom wrongful incarceration compensation remains an illusionary concept. Sorry guys but fairness . . . that’s a budget buster.
Fred makes the good point that these victims of wrongful incarceration don’t have any political clout. They don’t have money to hire a lobbyist and they don’t have powerful backers with influence. Without that, there is little chance for the law to be changed to give them some redress.
Two additonal points on compensation:
- James Bain did a sit-down interview with Channel 10 news in Tampa (w/ video), which led to questions of the new Attorney General about why her office had been sitting on his application for compensation for the last five months. Not surprisingly, a little scrutiny moved things along and it looks like Mr. Bain’s compensation will be paid imminently.
- However, it is not all good news for exonerees seeking compensation. Texas exoneree Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, will not receive his compensation for wrongful incarceration because of a simple error in the order exonerating him. Even though the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge all agreed that Graves was “actually innocent,” these magic words required by the Texas compensation statute, were omitted from the judge’s order. His lawyers are trying to remedy this but they are getting little help from the prosecutor or the Governor.