Friday, August 13, 2010

Exoneree's choice: Take state compensation or roll the dice in court

The New York Times has a feature on the dilemma facing Michael A. Green, a recent exoneree out of Harris County who "whether to take a $2.2 million compensation payment from the State of Texas or file a civil lawsuit in the hope of exposing the truth about the investigation that led to his incarceration. To receive the compensation, he must waive the right to sue."

The decision is entirely Mr. Green's, but the much-more generous compensation statute now in place in Texas would get him his money quicker and the lifetime annuity associated with it would make sure he's taken care of going forward.

Just like anybody else who first gets out of prison after a long stretch, a lot of exonerees have great difficulty adjusting when they first reenter the free world, which in Green's case is a radically different than when he went in 27 years ago during Ronald Reagan's first term. If he sues, Green may have to wait years before seeing a dime, and for each dime he wins, of course, he'd likely share 4 cents with his attorney before cutting in Uncle Sam. At the old, lower compensation levels many exonerees felt like the state didn't pay enough money to preclude suing; lately most have been taking the state compensation. OTOH, some folks who sue win more, while for others it doesn't work out so well It's a personal decision that has to be made by each, individual. I wish Mr. Green all the luck in the world in making the right choice for him.

The Times portrays Green's case as a classic example of faulty eyewitness identification overturned by DNA evidence:
Mr. Green, 45, was set free by a state judge two weeks ago after DNA tests on the rape victim’s clothing proved that he could not have been responsible for the crime. His exoneration was the work of a new unit in the Harris County district attorney’s office dedicated to reviewing claims of innocence.

The story of Mr. Green’s nightmarish imprisonment — and how a prosecutor, Alicia O’Neill, eventually unearthed biological evidence that led to the real culprits — throws a harsh spotlight on an uncomfortable reality in American justice: the identification of a suspect in a lineup or in an array of photos is not always reliable.

More than three-quarters of the 258 people exonerated by DNA tests in the last decade were convicted on the strength of eyewitness identifications, according to the Innocence Project, the Manhattan-based organization dedicated to freeing innocent prisoners.

In Texas, the problem is even more acute: identifications by eyewitnesses played a pivotal role in 80 percent of the 40 people who have been exonerated with DNA evidence.
Stories like this only make me angrier still that Texas' eyewitness ID legislation got mowed down last session thanks to the ignominious Voter ID debate.

I am glad to see the Harris DA's Office getting credit in the national press for her office's recent work on the subject, and glad to see that some DA's office insiders are developing some personal and institutional stakes in making exonerating innocents as important a priority as convicting the guilty. “'It’s what you go to law school for,' Ms. O’Neill said of the moment Mr. Green walked out of jail."

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now that is messed up. Take the money and hush, or take us to court where I am sure we can make you look like it was all a big misunderstanding... Wow, this is one tough call, it will test this man and find out what his meddle is.

Anonymous said...

It's good to be King.

/con law

Rage

Hook Em Horns said...

Would you take your chances in a Texas court after spending 27 years in prison for something you did not do?

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. How do you spend 27 years, straight time in prison for rape, with no parole, when even murderers get paroled out in less time?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:04, his sentence was 75 years.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:10, nobody says he has to "hush," though some exonerees who've sued have ended up with non-disclosure as part of settlements. He wouldn't get his "day in court," but he could still tell his story anywhere and everywhere he wanted.

R. Shackleford said...

Take the money then write a book. Or give an interview.

Michael said...

The bad part is that, when and if he takes the move, the so-called lifetime annuity is not guaranteed. If he is ever incarcerated for any other offense, per statute, the payments end. What makes this so bad is that, they put him in an environment for 27 years that statistics show increase his likelihood of re-arrest significantly. It could be for anything, trumped up, etc..., and if he goes back in he loses everything they owed him. Lawmakers need to amend this part of the statute. I mean, even if he went out and held up a bank tomorrow, it wouldn't erase the injury the State has caused. Thus, he and/or his family should be entitled to it no matter sweat!!!

Anonymous said...

Let's be clear. It was Democrat lawmakers who were "chubbing" the voter I'd bill at the end of the session who are squarely to blame for the demise of the legislative eyewitness I D reforms---a bill which actually enjoyed bipartisan support among the defense bar, prosecutors association and several law enforcement groups. Just thought this fact warranted pointing out, Grits.

Anonymous said...

Taking the settlement is EXACTLY what the State of Texas wants him to do.

This would be a Federal Civil Rights Case 1983 action where there is no limit to the state's liability.

No jury of actual human beings upon learning that the County District Attorney and District Judge and DNA has ruled the guy was innocent would rule against Mr. Green.

This is worth WAY more than $2M (out of which he'd have to pay taxes, attorney fees, etc. so he'd be lucky to end up with even half that amount)and the state's biggest fear is that a Jury will get to see the state and it's system exposed.

I hope he sues their butts off.

Kudos to DA Lycos - she understands that, according to state law, "the duty of the District Attorney is to seek Justice; NOT Convictions".

God Bless her!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:50, there was bipartisan blame to go around for the voter ID debacle. Not only did Rs override the 2/3 rule to ram it through the Senate but a group of 50+ issued a letter saying they wouldn't let individual bills through if the Dems wouldn't let through Voter ID, which was as a practical matter the moment the already ailing bill died. Lots of folks in both parties decided voter ID was a bigger priority than this, and IMO it was disgraceful for everyone who did so.

2:36, yes and no. If he seeks compensation he won't have significant attorneys fees, and certainly not the 40% contingency an attorney would likely take in a Sec. 1983 case, if he can find someone to take it at all. Plus he gets money a LOT sooner.

Michael's right he loses the annuity if he commits future crimes. Is it what I'd prefer? No. It was what we could get through while keeping what a lot of people consider a fairly generous package.

It's his choice, and if he believes he could do a lot better in court and he can afford to wait for his money, he should sue. I wouldn't presume to advise someone in that very personal decision, certainly from afar.

Anonymous said...

It's disgraceful to want only qualified voters to vote? Grits, you're nothing more than a typical Democrat. All you care about is the election of your kind--regardless of whether it's the product of a legitimate election or not!

Two bullet points:

1) In Houston this week, a twice deported illegal immigrant robbed and killed a 14 year old girl; and,

2) According to a just released Gallup poll, for the first time since his inauguration, a majority of low income people (people earning less than 2000/month) think Obama is doing a shitty job!

Feeling confident about November, Grits? :-)

Prison Doc said...

Take the money and run.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... 27 years. Broken down, that award equates to 81,481.48 a year. What do you think his chances were of making that much money out in the real world? I know, I know. That's not the issue. And, I agree. But, unfortunately, the judicial system usually only deals in dollars and cents when it comes to reparations. I would like to see him sue. But, you roll the dice if you do it. Believe me, I've come out on the losing end of what we thought was a lead-pipe-cinch slam-dunk lawsuit before. I promise you, the sky occasionally does fall inside of a courtroom.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:28, I blame Dems equally with Republicans for the Voter ID debacle, and criticized all of them openly at the time. And no one said "It's disgraceful to want only qualified voters to vote," however it was disgraceful for both sides to elevate that single, hyper-partisan issue to the point that equally or even more important priorities weren't addressed.

Failing to change eyewitness procedures, for example, doomed more people to becoming victims of false accusations. There's a lot stronger evidence that is happening on a broad scale than there is that there's widespread voter fraud that the voter ID bill would remedy.

Another casualty were asset forfeiture reforms designed to prevent highway robbery episodes like in Tenaha - derailed by Voter ID.

In both chambers, partisans chose to abuse and manipulate the rules on Voter ID and stubbornly refused to compromise even where they could have found consensus. We were very lucky the compensation bill got through a week or so before.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Mr. Michael A. Green, Congratulations are in order for finally receiving the freedom denied you for so long. I watched your CNN interview on 08/16/10 & wanted to express my personal gratitude to you for being so gracious to acknowledge those being ‘not guilty’ but lack DNA to prove it. Also, thank you for choosing to work with the Innocence Project in your endeavors to reform the criminal justice system of Texas. Maybe now with your assistance, Texas will address blatant faulty eyewitness reporting, testifying, & use of to justify an arrest, indictment, & conviction.

Regarding the dilemma you are facing today (as Grits said it’s up to you in the end. I promise you, we won't miss the $2.2 million because it is paid out and revocable so feel free to take it and run. It'll take more like a $500 million dollar payment to convince the public at large it's time to reform the criminal justice system from the moment of arrest, the games courts play, including pardoning the innocent without cherry picking. No matter what you decide, bless you & yours as you enjoy your new life here in the free world. See you in Atlanta. Thanks.