Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Compensating the falsely convicted

Coming on the heels of news that Governor Rick Perry will meet with the family of Timothy Cole (the falsely convicted inmate who was posthumously exonerated in February in an Austin court), there are a slew of innocence-related bills up today and tomorrow in both the Texas Senate and the House. I've mentioned the ones up this afternoon in the Senate, but there's good AP coverage in the papers about the exoneree compensation bill that will be heard tomorrow in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee:

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, filed a bill to increase lump sum compensation from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of incarceration. The bill also would require the state to pay some of the compensation in annuities, assuring exonerees a lifetime income. The payments would be retroactive to exonerees who already received lump sum payments, including Fountain, and would cease if there was a subsequent felony conviction.

"I don't imagine any of us locked up more than 20 years have a lot of experience managing personal finances," said Charles Chatman, who was exonerated in January 2008 after nearly 27 years.

The bill also would provide exonerees the same health insurance given to state employees, a crucial benefit for those who often emerge from prison with severe health problems but no way to get medical coverage.

Smith's lawyers attempted to sign him up for Social Security disability, which would have made him eligible for Medicare coverage. But the government rejected Smith's application, saying he hadn't paid enough into the system to qualify for benefits.

The article also focuses on problems with exonerees' reentry to society upon leaving prison that are the focus of bills by Senators Hegar and West in this afternoon's Senate Criminal Justice Committee hearing - the lack of social services for exonerees upon release:

Exoneration hearings have become common events in Dallas courtrooms in recent years. They've also highlighted the lack of social services available to the wrongly convicted.

Such services are commonplace for convicts paroled out of prison. Parolees receive $50 and a bus ticket to anywhere in Texas upon release, and another $50 when they meet up with their parole officers, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

There are re-entry centers in major cities that offer employment help, counseling and substance abuse treatment, and there are halfway houses for parolees who need additional supervision.

"We're not releasing people so they can be homeless," Clark said. "That doesn't happen."

But that's what routinely happens to exonerees, who are released suddenly and with no place to go.

"It's really terrible," Smith said. "People who get out on parole have a better chance of getting started on the right foot than a person who has been exonerated."

An ad hoc support system has sprung up in the absence of services from the state. Fellow exonerees have become fixtures at hearings for the newly freed.

See a further discussion of innocence-related bills up today in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in this fact sheet from the Innocence Project of Texas.


gravyrug said...

The sad part is that there are enough innocent people locked up that we need institutional solutions for exonorees. If it were as rare as it should be, ad hoc solutions we be enough.

sunray's wench said...

"We're not releasing people so they can be homeless," Clark said. "That doesn't happen."

Of course it does, it happens every single day when TDCJ release inmates who come to the ends of their sentences (I dont mean those who are paroled) and who have been in prison so long that they have nobody on the outside to help them.

This just highlights what exactly happens to thousands of Texans. It is terrible that the innocent have to face this after so many years of incarceration, but they are not the only ones.

123txpublicdefender123 said...

Why should the compensation cease if the person is subsequently convicted of a felony? The State gets off the hook for wrongly locking up someone for 20 years if they later are caught with a single vicodin pill? That's ridiculous.

Ronon said...

Part of the money should be paid by the county where the false conviction originated. This is the only way to put pressure on the local DAs to do the right thing.

Anonymous said...

I think the provision that a future conviction would relieve the State of the duty to pay compensation is a horrible idea.

It gives a powerful State an incredible incentive to arrest and convict someone in order to save money. It is far too easy to coerce a plea deal in the current judicial system.

The State already gets around "ex post facto" laws by passing crime enhancement laws. I just don't get what committing a crime in the future has to do with compensating victims of a dysfunctional system that convicted them in error in the first place.

I cannot imagine a public safety benefit in taking compensation away from an innocent person. If that person doesn't understand how easy it is for the powerful State to make an error, no one does! Taking their money away adds nothing but a financial incentive to the State to single them out for additional "punishment".

Completely wrong on so many levels.

Anonymous said...

Jury Awards $60,000 to Woman Strip Searched at County Jail

March 23, 2009

CIVIL RIGHTS Jury awards $60,000 to woman strip searched at county jail

A federal court jury in Marshall has awarded $60,000 to a woman who said she was unreasonably strip searched at the county jail.

In 2005, Chandra Rae Jimenez was taken into custody by Wood County sheriff's deputies after a raid on a bar she owned with her husband. While at the jail, she was strip searched by a jailer pursuant to an oral policy adopted by Sheriff Dwaine Daugherty.

Jimenez, who said she was humiliated by the search and has since been plagued with depression and nightmares, alleged Wood County and Daugherty violated her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

The defense argued the search was justified because the jailer had reasonable suspicion that Jimenez had a weapon or contraband.

Additional claims against other defendants, including the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, settled before trial.

The jury issued its verdict on Feb. 5Jimenez v. Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, No. 2:07-cv-00154-TJW-CECourt: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Joe C. Tooley, Law Office of Joe C. Tooley, Rockwall; Edwin E. Wright III, Stradley & Wright, Dallas

Defense Attorneys: Demetri Anastasiadis and Maurice Lawrence Wells, Attorney General's Office, Austin; Robert S. Davis and Gregory S. Moreman, Flowers Davis, Tyler

Don said...

I like the idea of having counties pay part of the costs. They are the ones who wrongfully convicted someone.

Anonymous said...

Smith's lawyers attempted to sign him up for Social Security disability, which would have made him eligible for Medicare coverage. But the government rejected Smith's application, saying he hadn't paid enough into the system to qualify for benefits.

This statement is totally false, you don't have to pay a dime into social security to receive SSI disability. Go to any MHMR in the state of Texas and you will find oodles of people getting SSI disability that never paid anything into the system. Where do they get these lawyers???