Traci Koster bill making it easier for exonerated prisoners to get paid mirrors previous efforts from Dems

House Dems were a little peeved to learn they weren't considered before the new bill was drafted.

Robert DuBoise was 19 when he was sent to prison for the rape and murder of Barbara Grams in Tampa. His initial death sentence was later changed to life plus 15 years.

The only problem was DuBoise didn’t kill Grams. He was 56 when DNA evidence thought to have been destroyed finally proved that.

DuBosie is one of 15 exonerated prisoners the Innocence Project said should be entitled to compensation under Florida law. Only, the law in its current form hamstrings many exonerated prisoners’ hopes of receiving that compensation.

Tampa Republican Traci Koster filed a bill Monday to amend those setbacks.

“Given what we have learned and heard over the years from the exoneree community, now is the right time to update Florida’s law to make sure it fits the process and realities of exonerees today,” Koster said. “Time is a precious gift that was taken from our fellow citizens. While we cannot ever fully repay them, we can take this step in helping to make them whole.”

While the reform is welcome, Florida House Democrats were shocked by the filing.

Koster’s bill, HB241, was filed for the 2022 Legislative Session. It’s nearly identical to bills filed in the 2020 and 2021 Legislative Session by Broward Democrat and Minority Leader Bobby DuBose. Even the bills titles are almost indistinguishable. DuBose’s bills were called “An act relating to compensation for wrongful incarceration.” Koster’s is called “An act relating to compensation for eligible victims of wrongful incarceration.”

DuBose told Florida Politics he had been working on another version of his bill for the 2022 Legislative Session and was blindsided by Koster’s version. He said this particular criminal justice fight was something he inherited from former Tampa Bay area Sen. Arthenia Joyner. It’s an issue he said he’s been working on for years and one that’s been particularly important to Florida’s Black community.

“Representation matters, and I wish I’d gotten a call before this was filed. Black people are disproportionally incarcerated in our prison system, and changing this law would be a great step forward for our community,” DuBose said. “I hope that they will include others in bringing this legislation forward, which in the past has been a bipartisan and racially balanced effort. It’s important that this bill passes, but I’m a little bothered by how this has unfolded.”

The Koster bill — and the Dubose bills before it — looks to extend the time a person has to apply for compensation from 90 days to two years.

“This deadline doesn’t fit the length of the exoneration process,” according to an Innocence Project news release. “Once an innocent person’s conviction is overturned or vacated, a prosecutor must then decide whether to dismiss the charges or retry them. Innocent people regularly need to wait more than 90 days for the prosecutor to make this decision alone and longer if they are retried.”

One of the major changes in both bills directly effects cases like DuBosie’s. It’s known as the “Clean Hands” provision. Florida’s exoneree compensation law now says a person can apply if they were previously convicted of a single nonviolent felony, but they are precluded if they had multiple nonviolent felonies. Florida is the only state among 37 with compensation laws to bar exonerees from compensation because of unrelated crimes, according to data from the Innocence Project.

Since DuBoise was convicted of offenses related to possessing a stolen bike and entering an unlocked vacant home when he was a teenager, he’s not eligible for nearly $2 million in compensation he would otherwise be.

Both HB241 and the versions previously filed by DuBose would strike down the “Clean Hands” provision. Koster’s bill differs by adding a caveat preventing compensation “for any period of incarceration during which the person was concurrently serving a sentence for a conviction of another crime for which such person was lawfully incarcerated.”

Dubose’s 2021 bill received Republican support from St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes who co-sponsored a Senate version. But last year’s bill died in the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee. The 2020 bill also had Republican support in the Senate from Bob Bradley. The 2020 bill died on the calendar for second reading.

Daniel Figueroa IV

Bronx, NY —> St. Pete, Fla. Just your friendly, neighborhood journo junkie with a penchant for motorcycles and Star Wars. Daniel has spent the last decade covering Tampa Bay and Florida for the Ledger of Lakeland, Tampa Bay Times, and WMNF. You can reach Daniel Figueroa IV at [email protected]


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