Revamp of compensation for people wrongfully imprisoned heads to Senate floor

A person who served 34 years in prison has been exonerated since the bill was introduced.

Getting the wrongfully incarcerated their due compensation — in spite of past felonies — moved one step closer to reality, as a committee vote sent the issue to the full Senate floor.

The Senate Rules Committee unanimously voted to advance the bill (SB 382), filed by Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island. It strikes out the current “clean hands” 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. It brings the state more in line with other states’ rules.

It also extends the deadline for which the wrongfully incarcerated can apply for the compensation from the current 90 days to two years after the criminal charges are dismissed or the person is retried and acquitted.

Since Bradley’s first committee stop with the bill, another wrongfully incarcerated person has been added to the number of people entitled to the compensation, she told the committee.

Sidney Holmes of Lauderhill was exonerated just last week after a review of his case found that he was likely misidentified as the driver of a getaway car in a robbery. He had served 34 years of a 400-year sentence.

“With the justice provided by this bill, he would be allowed to recover,” Bradley said.

The exonerated are entitled to $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration.

The committee also heard from Herman Lindsey, who was on death row for a robbery and murder on the say-so of a cellmate before his exoneration. A juvenile crime kept him from qualifying for the wrongful incarceration pay, he told the committee.

“I’ve been back and forth to Tallahassee for the last eight years, trying to get the language right in this bill,” he said. “And I must say for the first time. I think this bill is absolutely right.”

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

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.

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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