Senate committee advances removing condition for compensation of wrongfully imprisoned

The wrongfully imprisoned now get $50K a year for every year imprisoned — if they have “clean hands,” according to current law.

Wrongly convicted prisoners would get the compensation they are entitled to — despite having previous felony convictions, according to a unanimous Senate committee vote Monday.

The vote came after testimony from a man who was exonerated after spending 18 months on Death Row. Herman Lindsey was sentenced to death after a cellmate said that he had confessed a robbery and murder to him.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted to advance the bill (SB 382) that Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island sponsored. It strikes out the current caveat that only those with one or fewer nonviolent felonies can get the $50,000 a year for every year served under an erroneous conviction.

“Sen. Bradley, you got it perfect,” Lindsey said. “I actually see now that Florida is now standing up and fighting with the victims that was caused; I really appreciate all of you passing this bill instead of just saying, ‘Sorry.’”

If it ultimately becomes law, it will bring the state more in line with other states that have the same kind of compensation for wrongly incarcerated persons, according to the Florida Bar.

The bill also extends the deadline to apply for the compensation from 90 days after the sentence is vacated to two years.

Bradley added up the toll of years taken from innocent people.

“Seventeen people who had 270 years of life taken from them cannot receive compensation because of two barriers present in our current law,” Bradley said, noting that some had been convicted of unrelated offenses or hadn’t applied in time. “One exoneree spent 37 years wrongfully imprisoned and was denied compensation because of two minor offenses committed when he was 17.”

Since 2000, 21 people have been exonerated or released from incarceration because of post-conviction DNA testing, false or misleading forensic evidence or mistaken identity, according to the bill’s analysis.

Five people have qualified for and been awarded a total of $6,276,900 compensation under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Act since it was passed in 2008, the analysis said.

House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell and Republican Rep. Traci Koster are sponsoring a similar bill (HB 43) that’s also received a committee nod.

“This is to right a long-standing wrong,” said Miami area Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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