‘We need to make it right’: Lawmaker refiles measure to help wrongly imprisoned Floridians
DuBoise hugging his mother, Myra DuBoise, following his release from prison on Aug. 27, 2020 in Bowling Green. (Image: Casey Brooke Lawson/AP Images for The Innocence Project)

DuBoise Mom
‘Hopefully, this time is the right time. Hopefully, we can make some movement.’

Tampa resident Robert DuBoise spent 37 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit until DNA evidence convinced a court to set him free in late 2020. The moment he walked out of prison, a clock started ticking.

DuBoise reentered society with little more than the clothes on his back and directions to a local halfway house. Adjusting to the changes all around him was like “coming into a whole new world,” he told Florida Politics.

In accordance with Florida statutes, he had 90 days to file a claim with the state seeking compensation — $50,000 for each year lost, or $1.85 million — for the time taken from him.

Beyond the regular difficulty of navigating the state’s legal system to request recompense for an injustice that cost him at least a third of his life, DuBoise faced another obstacle. Florida has something called a “clean hands” rule, which denies compensation for exonerees with more than one nonviolent felony.

Florida is the only state with such a provision.

Robert DuBoise leaves the Hardee County Correctional Institute after 37 years in prison. Image via AP.

DuBoise had prior convictions for burglary and grand theft unrelated to the case that sent him away for decades, meaning he’d have to pursue legal action through a claims bill with the help of a state lawmaker.

So far, that effort has proven unsuccessful. Bipartisan legislation in the form of twin bills filed for the 2022 Legislative Session died without hearings. Neither of the bills’ sponsors, Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Democrat Rep. Andrew Learned of Bradenton, are returning to Tallahassee next year.

Both agreed the hurdles exonerees face now are unreasonable.

“Would you trade 37 years of your life for ($1.85 million)? I don’t know anybody who would say, ‘Yes, sign me up,’” Learned said. “We took his life, liberty, everything. He’s got nothing, and it’s our fault. This is an obvious thing to do.”

DuBoise is hardly alone in running into this frustrating quagmire. Florida passed the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act in 2008. In the 12 years that followed, the state exonerated 31 people, according to the Innocence Project, but just five received post-release payments. Most were barred for prior convictions. Others failed to file a claim within the 90-day window.

Tampa Republican Rep. Traci Koster hopes to change that. For the last two Legislative Sessions, she has filed measures to give wrongly imprisoned people up to two years to file a claim with the state. Her proposal would also nix the clean hands provision if the other charges were unrelated to the one for which the person is seeking compensation.

She’s filed the bill again, with some additional tweaks, for the upcoming Session beginning April 10.

“For one reason or another, the state didn’t get it right — maybe not maliciously or intentionally, but certainly we got it wrong for one reason or another,” she told Florida Politics. “Now that we know, we need to make it right.”

Tampa Rep. Traci Koster, a lawyer in private life, hopes her third attempt at revising Florida’s laws governing compensation for wrongly imprisoned people proves successful. Image via Florida House of Representatives.

Koster’s bill (HB 43), which Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island is set to carry in the Senate, would apply to all people in the future who are wrongly imprisoned and later exonerated. It would also retroactively apply to anyone wrongly imprisoned since Jan. 1, 2006, but had their petition for compensation dismissed because they failed to meet the 90-day deadline or were denied due to a separate felony conviction.

In an update to two prior iterations of the bill, both of which died unheard, Koster included an additional provision that would deny previously approved compensation to an exoneree who was later convicted and incarcerated again for another crime.

Koster isn’t the first lawmaker to take up the bipartisan issue. Former Sens. Rob Bradley of Green Cove Springs and Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and former Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Bobby DuBose repeatedly sponsored measures to eliminate the clean hands rule to no avail.

“Like I tell my kids, when you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” Dubose said of his bill in 2020. “If the state is wrong, we’re wrong, and we need to address it.”

So, what makes this go-around different than any of the prior times a lawmaker has tried to affect change on the matter? Koster said she doesn’t know, but that won’t stop her from following through on the commitment she made upon starting her legislative career to do what she believes is right.

Koster said she’s met with DuBoise and was impressed by his gentle nature and positive outlook on life. That’s the case with many freed exonerees, she said. They’re happy to be free. They’re not angry or revengeful. They just want to move on with their lives and be productive members of society.

“I think that’s pretty incredible,” she said. “Hopefully, this time is the right time. Hopefully, we can make some movement.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Boaz

    December 16, 2022 at 3:55 am

    Agreed. Justice delayed is justice denied. This legislation is long overdue.

Comments are closed.


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