Posts Tagged ‘Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act’

In Each Other’s Company

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 28, 2011 @ 5:40 PM — Comments (2)

While various states across the nation have their share of criminal cases reflecting severe miscarriages of justice, we all know that beyond the borders of the United States there, too, are instances wherein innocent people have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. Within a great majority of the legal quandaries associated with each case, however, are questions relating to compensation for the wrongfully convicted. In Florida, for example, some exonerated men are eligible to be compensated $50,000 for each year of time spent behind bars. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule.

To receive payment the exoneree must meet eligibility requirements outlined in the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, a bill established in 2008 by the Florida legislature. In addition, the exoneree must meet provisional requirements of the bill’s “clean hands” mandate. The conditions for receipt of funds are determined by the facts of a recipient’s criminal record prior to (and during) the wrongful incarceration.

Legislation supported by the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) has been presented to lawmakers in an effort to overturn the “Clean Hands” provision and to assist the exonerated in rebuilding their lives. IPF’s efforts have been met, however, with strong opposition from lawmakers who are unwilling to support compensation for the wrongfully convicted men. Such actions, it seems to me, shows an unwillingness to acknowledge that an egregious miscarriage of justice occurred in the first instance. The State of Florida, lawmakers seem to be saying to the exonerated men, did a wicked thing by convicting you for something you did not do, but hey, you’re free now, so go and make the best of it.

I am of the opinion that (perhaps) after decades of imprisonment, when an exonerated man might have lost family members and loved ones, that he might also be a bit guarded upon entering a new world alone and without support. While a monetary compensation certainly cannot make up for a life lost to imprisonment, it can most assuredly help ease the transition towards rebuilding a life fractured by the state’s negligence.

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Kyle Unger, freed in 2009 after spending 14 years (of a 25-year sentence for a murder he did not commit), is seeking $14.5 million in compensation from provincial and federal justice officials for an array of “damages,” including, according to his lawsuit, “loss of freedom, loss of enjoyment of life, severe emotional trauma and distress.” He was, according to court documents, “deprived of his youth, his education, and a normal working life.” Unger’s lawsuit asserts that police and prosecutors used “faulty techniques,” including a breach of Unger’s constitutional rights, to help convict him. He arrived at the compensatory amount by appealing for one million dollars for every year spent in prison, plus related court costs.

In Texas, Anthony Graves, exonerated in 2010 for a 1994 conviction, is seeking compensation from the state for each of the 16 years he spent on death row for a crime he, too, did not commit. In court documents Graves maintains, among numerous legal and ethical breaches, that “prosecutors elicited false statements and withheld testimony [from witnesses] that could have influenced the jury.” His legal struggles survived numerous hearings and appeals to reach the point of exoneration. For each year of his wrongful incarceration, he is seeking compensation in the amount of $80K, the state of Texas’ compensatory threshold.

I offer this discussion in an effort to not only highlight the importance of the work of various Innocence Projects across the nation and beyond, but to ask that we engage ourselves in the business of staying informed. While a range of organizations might function under diverse names, their work is significant in aspects too numerous to declare.

Despite the fact that we might not recognize the vulnerabilities that we all face in this win-at-all-cost society in which we live, we are, I believe, in this thing together.

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2011 Florida Legislative Action Alert

Alejandra de la Fuente — March 22, 2011 @ 2:11 PM — Comments (0)

Every year, the Florida legislature considers hundreds of bills, few of which affect the work of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF). This year, legislators have filed three bills that you might want to keep your eye on.

Eyewitness Identification Reform
Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions. To date, of the 267 people who have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing, 80% of those individuals’ convictions were caused, at least in part, by a mistaken identification. This issue is also at the forefront of the work of the Florida Innocence Commission.

Senator Joe Negron (R–Palm City) has filed SB 1206 and Representative Perry Thurston (D–Ft. Lauderdale) has filed HB 821. These bills provide a comprehensive, uniform, statewide reform package for removing the suggestiveness from witness identification procedures. Specifically, the bills provide that

  1. Live lineups and photo lineups be composed in a manner that diminishes their suggestiveness,
  2. These procedures be administered in a “double-blind” fashion, which means that neither the witness nor the administrator knows whether the suspect is in the lineup,
  3. The lineup participants must be shown to the witness sequentially rather than simultaneously,
  4. Proven instructions must be given before the lineup is administered and no confirmatory comments should be made during or after the lineup procedure, and
  5. Agencies without manpower to comply with certain aspects of the legislation may use prescribed cost-effective measures to still blind the administrator of the lineup.

On Monday, March 21, the Florida Innocence Commission voted to support Negron’s proposal.  If passed, this legislation would bring Florida in line with states like North Carolina and Ohio, who have passed similar laws. Most importantly, this legislation would move us closer to having uniform justice in criminal investigations, regardless of geography.  Please call Senator Negron at (850) 487-5088 and Rep. Thurston at (850) 488-1084 to thank them for their leadership on this issue.

The bill has been referred to committees in both houses.  It will have to pass out of these committees before it would be considered on the floor of each house and then signed by the governor.  The first committee stop is Criminal Justice on the Senate side and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on the House side.

Call both Senate Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Greg Evers (R-Crestview) at 850-487-5000 and House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) at 850-488-4335, and ask them to put SB 1206 and HB 821, the Witness Identification Reform Act, on the next meeting agenda for their respective committees.  Make sure to tell them that this bill will help solve crimes and prevent wrongful convictions. In order to have a chance to pass this thing this session, we need to get these bills calendared as soon as possible.

After the bill gets calendared, we will send you a new action alert on how to help persuade the members of the committee to pass the bill.

Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Capital Sentencing
Florida is the only state in the nation which requires a unanimous jury verdict to convict someone of capital murder and make them eligible for the death penalty, but then requires only a majority jury vote to sentence them to death. Identical bills filed by Senator Thad Altman (R–Melbourne) and Representative John Patrick Julien (D–North Miami Beach) would change that, if passed.

SB 1066 and HB 979 would require a jury to come to a unanimous verdict during capital sentencing proceedings in order for the judge to be able to sentence the defendant to death. This bill will save Florida from exorbitant spending on years of capital appeal and post-conviction proceedings. Currently, the closer a jury sentencing vote is to a 7-5 majority vote for death, the more likely the Florida Supreme Court is to overturn the death sentence and start the process all over again.

Most importantly, a higher standard for imposing a death sentence will help prevent those innocent individuals wrongfully convicted of capital murder from being wrongfully incarcerated on death row and possibly executed.

Please call Senator Altman at (850) 487-5053 and Representative Julien at (850) 488-7088 to thank them for sponsoring such an important bill.

The bill has been referred to committees in both houses.  It will have to pass out of these committees before it would be considered on the floor of each house and then signed by the governor.  The first committee stop is Criminal Justice on the Senate side and the Criminal Justice Subcommittee on the House side.

Call both Senate Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Greg Evers (R-Crestview) at 850-487-5000 and House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) at 850-488-4335, and ask them to put SB 1066 and HB 979 on the next meeting agenda for their respective committees.

Wrongful Conviction Compensation
In 2008, the Florida Legislature passed the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, which set up a streamlined process to pay exonerees $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration as well as provide them access to tuition-free education. While the Act was a step in the right direction, it came with a number of provisions which have had the effect of excluding most of Florida’s exonerees from compensation.

Specifically, the Act included a “Clean Hands” provision, which excludes from compensation those individuals who were convicted of a felony prior to or during their wrongful incarceration. This provision denies compensation to Bill Dillon, who was convicted of felony possession of one Quaalude pill two years before being wrongfully convicted for murder and spending 27 years wrongfully incarcerated. It also excludes Orlando Boquete who had the audacity to escape from his wrongful incarceration, which is a felony.

For the past two legislative sessions, bills have been sponsored to amend this Act. Senator Arthenia Joyner (D–Tampa) has sponsored a similar bill (SB 250) this year. Unfortunately, SB 250 does not address the clean hands provision, nor does it help more innocent people get compensated.  Also, it does not have a companion bill in the House.

Please call Senator Joyner at (850) 487-5059, thank her for caring about this issue, but urge her to amend the bill to remove the clean hands provision which further victimizes Florida’s exonerees.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee as its first stop.  You can call Senator Anitere Flores (R-Miami) at 850-487-5130 and ask her to put the bill on her committee agenda at the next meeting.

Call to Action
Change in our criminal justice system cannot happen unless we stand together and demand it. Call your local legislators to let them know that these issues are important to you and urge their support for these reforms.

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Exoneree Compensation Roundup

Seth — February 22, 2011 @ 4:04 PM — Comments (0)

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.

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State Compensation Bill Still Not Paying

Seth — February 17, 2011 @ 9:00 AM — Comments (2)

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.

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Press Release: Innocent Man Accepts Compensation For Wrongful Incarceration

Seth — February 15, 2010 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (4)

Innocent Man Accepts Compensation For Wrongful Incarceration

Leroy McGee Holds Press Conference; Vows to Fight for Reform of State Compensation Law

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida—On Tuesday February 16, 2010, Leroy McGee will hold a press conference to accept $179,000 in compensation from the State of Florida for his wrongful conviction for a 1990 robbery after refusing to sign the acceptance paperwork over disagreements with unfair provisions in the compensation law.  He spent three years and seven months wrongfully incarcerated until Judge Paul Backman ruled McGee had not committed the robbery and that his defense attorney at trial gave the “absolutely the worst performance in the courtroom I’ve ever seen.”  Mr. McGee is Florida’s first innocent individual to be eligible and receive compensation under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.

Leroy McGee was convicted in 1991 for an armed robbery he did not commit.  During his incarceration, he continuously proclaimed his innocence. He pleaded with authorities and wrote numerous letters to judges. Finally, a special attorney, Mark Wrubel, was appointed to review his case. After several court filings, Judge Paul Backman ordered his conviction vacated.  Judge Backman determined that Mr. McGee had simply been railroaded by an incompetent defense attorney who overlooked, or just failed to introduce, clear evidence of Mr. McGee’s innocence—Mr. McGee did not match the initial descriptions of the robbery suspect, none of the fingerprints found at the scene matched his, his car was inoperable at the time of the crime, and his employee time card showed that he was, in fact, at work when the armed robbery took place.

As part of this claim process Mr. McGee had to establish also that he has never been guilty of committing any crime.  And this has to be certified by the FBI.

“I delayed taking this compensation to let the public know that there are a number of ways to improve the wrongful incarceration compensation statute.  With the economy like it is, it was time to accept the compensation and continue this fight,” said Mr. McGee.

Specifically, the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act does not allow someone who has been convicted of a felony prior to or during his wrongful incarceration to seek compensation.  Thus, a very minor felony can trigger this “Clean Hands” provision to prevent someone from being compensated for a subsequent wrongful incarceration.  Additionally, the law does not allow for attorneys fees for the legal work provided to obtain the compensation.  Because the law will require in some instances a mini-trial where the innocent individual will again have to prove their innocence, it may shut out a financially poor exoneree from the compensation process.

“Mr. McGee has been absolutely courageous in foregoing this compensation for the last eight months so that he could shed light on some of the problems with the compensation statute,” said David Comras, McGee’s pro bono attorney.

After Mr. McGee, with the help of his attorney, had fulfilled all of the legal and evidentiary requirements imposed by Florida’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act, the Attorney Generals Office offered to pay Mr. McGee in the form of an annuity that is worth approximately $179,000, and which is to be paid to him over a ten year plus period.  Apparently, there is no provision in the Act to allow for his substantial costs and legal fees incurred obtaining this compensation, despite the complex legal and heavy evidentiary burdens he had to overcome.  “If you are out of prison, you are going to be struggling out there, trying to get a job,” McGee said. “Who has the money to pay lawyers up front?  Any decision I make now (the State) will bring up to the rest of the guys (who apply).”

“Most exonerees come out of prison with limited resources or no resources at all.  It is one of the reasons why they were convicted in the first place and were unable to effectively prove their innocence for so many years.  Without providing a modest fee in the statute to allow them to hire a compensation attorney, it may prevent them from claiming compensation they deserve simply because they are poor and can’t afford an attorney,” said Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida.

“Even though Mr. McGee didn’t have to pay for my help to get his compensation, he is standing up for those exonerees who can’t afford an attorney or can’t find a free one in these tough economic times,” Comras continued.  “Few, if any, of those wrongfully incarcerated would be willing or able to bear such costs, risks and complications on their own account. And even when successful, they would remain substantially out of pocket for a great number of years concerning these costs,” Comras wrote the State in a Sept. 15, 2009 letter.

While there is a bill filed (SB 654) in the Florida Senate to remove the clean hands provision from the compensation law, the bill does not include a modest attorney fees provision.  The bill also does not have a sponsor in the Florida House of Representatives.  Without a companion bill in the House, it is unlikely that any positive changes will be made to the law this year.  Members of the House have until Tuesday March, 2, 2010, the first day of the legislative session, to file bills.

Please join Mr. McGee and his attorney David Comras for a press conference to announce the acceptance of his compensation for wrongful incarceration and explain Mr. McGee’s strong stance against the shortcomings in the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.  The event will be held at 2:00 PM at the Broward County Public Defender’s Office located at the main courthouse — 3rd Floor, North Wing, 201 SE 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301.

The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding and freeing innocent people in Florida prisons. IPF has worked on exoneree compensation issues for five years.  IPF’s website is

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