A “clean hands” provision in a Florida law designed to compensate wrongfully convicted prisoners is preventing most of those prisoners from receiving compensation. Of 13 men cleared by DNA evidence in Florida, only one has qualified for compensation while two eventually received payments through legislative claim bills.
The law, passed in 2008, entitles those who were wrongfully convicted to receive $50,000 for each year they were imprisoned plus free state college tuition. However, the “clean hands” language prohibits the state from paying anyone who has a prior felony conviction. [See: PLN, Sept. 2010, p.27].
The clean hands provision is “just crazy,” according to John Blue, a former Florida appellate judge who failed in his attempts to get the legislature to remove the restriction.
“It’s a nice bill. It looks good on paper but it eliminates at least 90 percent of the [wrongfully convicted] people,” said Barbara Heyer, an attorney who represents Anthony Caravella, who was cleared of murder by DNA testing. Caravella has been unable to collect compensation due to a juvenile record that “no one seems to be able to produce.”
Heyer and other lawyers are seeking to sue police officers who made arrests in wrongful conviction cases, or will try to have claim bills filed in the legislature to gain compensation for the wrongfully convicted. Only two men cleared by DNA testing have managed to obtain claim bills.
In 2005, William Dedge was awarded $2 million for spending 22 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. [See: PLN, March 2006, p.17]. Alan Crotzer, who served 24 years on home invasion and rape charges, received $1.25 million in 2008 after he was cleared of those crimes. [See: PLN, Dec. 2008, p.38].
Following his release from prison in September 2009, Caravella spent months in a homeless shelter. “They gave me $100 when I was released from prison and nowhere to go,” said Larry Bostic, who served 19 years for a rape he did not commit. He also lived in a homeless shelter for months. “It’s not right,” he stated.
At least one legislator agrees. “I feel if someone’s been wrongfully incarcerated, they need to be compensated appropriately,” said Republican state Representative Steve Crisafulli. He introduced a bill to compensate William Dillon for the 27 years he spent in prison for murder before being cleared by DNA and released in 2008. The bill initially failed to pass and was reintroduced in the 2011 session, seeking to pay Dillon $810,000.
Although the bill cleared the state Senate on May 4, 2011, it was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn in the House three days later.
This also proves that former felons are at the highest risk of being convicted of crimes for which they are innocent. The police indeed arrest, and prosecutors prosecute, and juries convict “the usual suspects.”
The only exonerated ex-prisoner to receive money under Florida’s compensation law thus far is James Bain, who served 35 years for the rape of a child before DNA tests proved he wasn’t guilty. Bain, released in December 2009, finally received $1.7 million in compensation in July 2011. That only occurred, however, after he participated in a TV interview that raised questions about why the Attorney General’s office had failed to take action on his compensation application for five months.
Such indifference to wrongful convictions is indicative of the knee-jerk tough-on-crime mindset of politicians and other public officials, who find it hard to even consider compensating a former prisoner, regardless of the fact that he spent decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. This is why, perhaps, Florida Innocence Project director Seth Miller described Florida’s wrongful conviction compensation law as having an “illusory impact.”
While compensation from the state may be illusory, the time in prison served by Caravella, Bostic, Dillon and other exonerees is all too real.
Sources: Sun-Sentinel, http://floridainnocence.org, Miami Herald, www.wtsp.com, Tampa Tribune
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