Sunday, March 18, 2012

Seeking compensation for non-DNA innocence claims

Here's a story about the difficulty in proving "actual innocence" without DNA and one man's quest seeking compensation in a non-DNA Texas innocence case: Billy Frederick Allen, who was falsely imprisoned for 25+ years based on a case of mistaken identity and evidence the defense failed to unearth before trial. Comptroller Susan Combs says Allen's release was based on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, not actual innocence, and now the Texas Supreme Court is considering whether Allen may receive compensation like the DNA exonerees in a similar position. The mixup began at the crime scene with the victim's dying words:
The police officer testified that when he asked Sewell who attacked him, he answered, "Billy Allen." But a defense investigator after the trial found two paramedics who heard Sewell saying three names as he was dying, the Court of Criminal Appeals said. One said he heard [victim James] Sewell say "Billy Wayne Allen," the name of another possible suspect. The other paramedic remembered hearing a middle name but couldn't recall it.

That new evidence left the officer's testimony ineffective, and the remaining major piece of evidence -- the palm print on the car -- would not have been enough to convict him, the Court of Criminal Appeals determined. The court overturned Allen's conviction in 2009, and he walked out of prison on bail.

Now, the Texas Supreme Court is considering Allen's compensation claim. Both sides recently argued before the court, with Allen's attorneys saying he had proved himself innocent and was the same as any other ex-inmate who had been released from prison.

"Billy will establish that you don't have to have a DNA exoneration to be compensated," said his attorney, Kris Moore.

Assistant Solicitor General Philip Lionberger, representing the state, said Allen was freed through a claim that raised legitimate questions about his conviction but did not prove he was fully innocent. He said state law only requires payment to former inmates who win their freedom after presenting evidence proving their innocence based on a stricter standard than the one Allen met.

Lionberger said Allen's claim and others like his are "never going to be entitled to compensation."
Allen's case eerily parallels that of James Giles, who was also the victim of a wrong-name mixup that cost him ten years in prison and another 14 as a registered sex offender. The only difference:, DNA evidence existed in Giles' case to prove him innocent, whereas here that absolute standard can't be met.

The Texas Supreme Court has a tough job setting the standard for compensation in non-DNA cases, and if they find the current law is inadequate to compensate Mr. Allen, the Lege should revisit the standard in light of non-DNA exonerations. Where that line gets drawn is a multi-million dollar decision for the state, but we also know DNA exonerations represent just a small fraction of the total number of false convictions. The compensation law should accommodate the types of innocence cases actually out in the world. The Tulia defendants received compensation, after all: DNA has never been a pre-requisite for compensation under Texas' statute and I hope the court doesn't create a precedent now that would make that the case.

Read more here:


Lee said...

Scott, I am thinking that the law should be more broad and inclusive to include payouts to all defendants erronously convicted. The state will adhere to the rules or mercilessly suffer the consequences. Note that the Anthony Graves case had no DNA. That %#$*&^@ Susan mcCombs needs to drop her "holier than thou" actual innocence crap and pay out to all of those railroaded by the system. We need to be protected from the state and its prosecutors with an agenda to convict.

RSO wife said...

Maybe if the state had to pay out for ALL those who were wrongly convicted, they would think twice before trying to force convictions before all the facts were in. Pain in the pocketbook is a really good deterrent to hasty action and jumping to conclusions is the only exercise a lot of the cops and DAs ever get.

Lee said...


Phillip Baker said...

Once again I am reminded of the lessons I learned from working in government, especially corrections: No government agency reforms itself because it the right thing to do, but only when it is forced to pay out a series of large settlements. Right or wrong is not enough. Politicians have to defend practices that cost taxpayers a lot of bucks before turning to reform. (True, too, in the private sector, by and large.)

Anonymous said...

I have a question, and cant seem to get in on your blog.

If a guy who has been charged with online solicitation of a minor in Travis county texas since 2/10 and the case has been sitting in 331st court as a PTR two more years later....they guy taught sunday school at the same time.....Why does a case like that stay in court without any action for so long...wonder what could happen with him on the outside??

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, thanks for picking this story up & running with it.

FWIW-I'm in the process of inviting Mr. Allen & his attorney(s) to visit here at GFB (& a few other places) in hopes of expanding on the topic.

It's my hope to gain the attention of as many taxpayers & voters as possible of; yesterday, today & tomorrow leaving them educated enough to garner support for a 'Bill' aimed at ending cherry picking.

As it is now, we have allowed the state of Texas (Attorneys & Accountants) to apologize for ‘certain’ wrongful convictions with taxpayers’ funds leaving the wrongdoers out of the restitution equation and simply ignoring the rest of the claims. By officially ending the current state-sanctioned discrimination & segregation of claims that are based on the 'type' of exculpatory evidence showing innocence; we'll ensure that justice isn't further perverted, we'll halt the number of unnecessary plea bargains & reap the financial gains associated.

Prior to seeking charges, the police detectives will be forced to actually investigate. Prior to charging, the prosecution teams will be forced to perform due diligence. Those practicing criminal defense will be forced to become ‘effective’. Finally, judges will be forced to discontinue allowing their chambers to be considered as Open Court.

This is in no way, shape, or form, a one man's story or fight. This is not the beginning, it's merely the effect the public sees in regards to the causes of 'one' wrong. There are many (VOTS) victims of the system; men, women & children and we want to be treated as equals in regards to our fellow humans so blessed with DNA evidence, a famous professor on their side, or a Senator or two in their corner. Stay tuned. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the county of conviction should pay about 50% of the compensation Cathy

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Cathy, great idea but that's all it will ever be. Sadly every single taxpayer in all 254 counties gets the opportunity to pay into the fund (in the form of taxes).

This is what we get when we continue to vote without vetting. It as simple as a phone call or email, no reply equals no vote.