Friday, April 24, 2009

House to consider exoneree compensation bill today

I'm headed to the capitol this morning on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas to hear the Texas House consider legislation to boost state compensation for innocent inmates who've been exonerated by DNA evidence, and also expanding compensation claims to include the families of innocent people who die in prison, precluding civil ligiation if they take the settlement. Dallas News editorial writer Tod Robberson has a good item in support of the legislation, writing that:

This bill, sponsored by Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas, is named for Timothy Cole, whom we've written about on our editorial page. Cole died in prison in 1999 while serving a 25 year sentence after being wrongfully convicted for the rape of a Texas Tech student in 1985. Another man confessed to the crime and subsequent DNA tests confirmed that Cole could not possibly have been the rapist. It was the very definition of a travesty of justice.

Anchia's bill would increase the lump sum compensation paid to victims of wrongful imprisonment from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year of imprisonment. In addition to the lump sum payment, the bill also requires the State of Texas to make monthly payments to the exonerated individual for life plus pay health insurance and provide up to 120 hours of free tuition at a career center, community college or state university.

This is one bill that deserves quick approval so we can at least partially compensate individuals who, largely because of prosecutorial overzealousness, served prison time for offenses they didn't commit.

Timothy Cole's youngest brother and his mother, Cory and Ruby Cole-Session, will also be in the gallery today to hear Rep. Anchia's legislation considered. This has been quite an emotional journey for them.

UPDATE: The House approved this legislation overwhelmingly on a voice vote on the Major State Calendar, a signal from the leadership that they considered this a high-priority bill. I was pleased to discover 8 of Texas DNA exonerees - in addition to the Cole family - had come into town to watch the vote - I hadn't expected that! The House members stood and applauded them when Rep. Anchia recognzied them after the bill had passed. A number of the reps came out to greet them afterwards in a sea of smiles, hugs and goodwill.

I've gotta tell you, I couldn't be more proud of the exonerees for having the moral strength and personal fortitude to come to Austin over and over to support improving Texas' laws, not just on this but on all the good public policy bills, too. If I'd spent two decades or more in prison for a crime I didn't commit, I don't know that I'd be able to muster enough faith in the system to even bother participating in the legislative process. The boost in compensation, access to healthcare and educational opportunities in the bill will be a huge boon for these fellows, and I couldn't be more happy for them.

Thank you to Rep. Anchia, his joint and coauthors, and many other supportive House members for taking a substantive and important step toward securing a modicum of justice for Texas' DNA exonerees.


123txpublicdefender123 said...

Does the bill truly only compensate those exonerated by DNA evidence? It's bad enough that some people have a much harder time trying to prove their innocence without DNA evidence available. It seems to me that in cases where they are able to do that, they should get the same compensation.

(I didn't read the link, so I don't know if I'm jumping to a conclusion; I'm just going by your title.)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm sorry to be a little sloppy in the headline, which did not convey the full breadth of cases to which the bill would apply. I fear I slapdashed up a quickie post before rushing out the door after lingering too long over my graffiti post, a topic that really annoyed me.

Certainly the bill was inspired by the DNA exonerations, especially in Dallas, but it applies to all inmates who prove their innocence, not just DNA cases.

Anonymous said...

The Texas legislators should have hung there heads in shame for allowing these false-arrests and false-convictions in the first place. It's nice that they are compensating these people but what are they doing to make sure this doesn't happen anymore? A lot of people conspired to make sure these people were convicted from shady cops to DA's who had some type of involvement in the tagging of the people in police line-ups. There is nothing to proud of in the Texas legislature yet!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I edited the headline as per your critque, 123 - I agree it was misstated.

1:29: They've got a few things in the hopper that are proactive bills on these topics. We'll know in a month how much of it actually occurs, and three weeks later whether or not the Governor will veto any of it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the costs of the proposal should be born by the counties that convicted them in the first place.


Anonymous said...

What fund does the compensation come from? Do you know what the current balance of this fund is? And without already pondering a guess, where does the money come from that goes into the compensation fund?

Anonymous said...

There is something seriously wrong in the Texas legislature this session. There is NO outrage that these people were wrongly convicted in the first place. Secondly, this compensation bill looks all nice but it is just as much about covering the state's ass from civil rights lawsuits as it is about righting a wrong. Texas really doesn't get it. THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN! IT NEEDS FIXED!! A band-aid wont do. When you have large numbers of people wrongly convicted, you have to start looking at the LIARS that put them there. Hello?

Informed Citizen said...

Wrongful Conviction and Wrongful Imprisonment is a CRIME. Even if it is a case of CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE. ..........
YES, my friends, an entity can commit crime. It might be a corporation or it might be a government. It may be that no individual person employed in the entity is subject to prosecution in their individual capacity. But the entity that may be known as THE STATE can be guilty of crime.
The bill should have provided for payment from the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. According to my research this fund has over $100,000,000 in it and the way it is set up it will continue to have plenty available to compensate victims of crime committed by THE STATE. But it does not. They will get annuity payments and these payments are subject to appropriation in each future session.............
$80 K per year sounds like a lot. But it is set up to be paid out under a fuzzy "lifetime" annuity program. In other words, small payments per year for as long as the victim (Exonerate) lives. Discounted to Net Present Value it works out to LESS than it appears to be on its face. .............
IF subjected to another violation of due process of law, they LOSE their annuity payments.
It is also a violation of the separation of powers. It puts the Comptroller in an untenable position of defining 'actual innocence'. A definition that may be arbitrary, capricious, and CONTRARY to the legal / technical definition of our US Constitution, Texas Constitution, and established by both our US supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 'actual innocence' is a term of art used to refer to a post-conviction acquittal / finding of not-guilty. Some operate on a political / judicial philosophy based on the premise that people are inherently guilty simply for haveing been given life by God or Nature. Our Law, and our System of Law, is based on the opposite premise. We do not judge people. We judge FACTS. People are not "guilty", but may be guilty of committing an Offense.
We are innocent, even after conviction. WHY? Because (1) an offense does not define the totallity of an individual, and;
(2) 'actual guilt' is not required for imposing a penal penalty. Only 'guilt beyond a reasonable doubt'. .............
Please don't get me wrong. I am happy these Exonerates are getting what they want. But there are some flaws in the bill. I am an exonerate and happy it does not apply to my case. It closes the Court to all future exonerates. It repeals subchapter C. This, itself, is a deprivation of due process of law. That is a battle a future victim will bring up when they seek restitution for crimes committed by THE STATE, through the hands of THE STATE [police, prosecutors, Judges, and the Juries that aid & abet or are decieved into complicity].

Anonymous said...

Informed Citizen.......

Go to this link and see if you have the same opinion as to the solvency of the crime victims fund.

Pay close attention to the next to last paragraph concerning the lege moving money from the fund. Wonder what they did with it?

Anonymous said...

The link may not work but this is what General Abbott said..........

Although great progress has been
made in helping victims of crime,
there are difficult challenges ahead. The Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund, which is the sole source of direct compensation to victims, will become insolvent in the next fiscal year if the
Legislature does not act to bolster
revenues that were diverted to other programs in previous legislative sessions.

In the 2000-2001 biennium, for example, the Legislature moved
$13 million from the Fund to other
agencies. That amount increased to
$114 million in the 2004-2005 biennium, with some of the money going to programs that, while worthy, are not directly related to crime victims.