Friday, September 04, 2009

Texas DNA exonerees will soon receive compensation

I was pleased to notice this AP report about Texas' new law improving compensation for falsely convicted men who've been proven innocence by DNA evidence. This was an issue I spent alot of time on this spring at the Lege on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas. Here's how the article opens:
Thomas McGowan's journey from prison to prosperity is about to culminate in $1.8 million, and he knows just how to spend it: on a house with three bedrooms, stainless steel kitchen appliances and a washer and dryer.

"I'll let my girlfriend pick out the rest," said McGowan, who was exonerated last year based on DNA evidence after spending nearly 23 years in prison for rape and robbery.

He and other exonerees in Texas, which leads the nation in freeing the wrongly convicted, soon will become instant millionaires under a new state law that took effect this week.

Exonerees will get $80,000 for each year they spent behind bars. The compensation also includes lifetime annuity payments that for most of the wrongly convicted are worth between $40,000 and $50,000 a year — making it by far the nation's most generous package. ...

Exonerees also receive an array of social services, including job training, tuition credits and access to medical and dental treatment. Though 27 other states have some form of compensation law for the wrongly convicted, none comes close to offering the social services and money Texas provides.

The annuity payments are especially popular among exonerees, who acknowledge their lack of experience in managing personal finances. A social worker who meets with the exonerees is setting them up with financial advisers and has led discussions alerting them to swindlers.

The annuities are "a way to guarantee these guys ... payments for life as long as they follow the law," said Kevin Glasheen, a Lubbock attorney representing a dozen exonerees.

UPDATE: Even the Cato Institute, the notoriously thrifty libertarian think tank, considers this "good spending" and declares that, "Other states should follow suit. Inaction is inexcusable." That's pretty darn cool! I'm not sure I've ever seen them suggest more spending on anything! The Cato Institute is much more reliably a source of suggestions for budget cuts.


Anonymous said...

It's about time.

I think this money should come out of the DA's office budget where these men were wrongfully convicted. I bet that would lead to a change in some of the practices that led to the wrongful convictions in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Unless it's paid for by the county that sentenced them, it won't have an effect on their actions.

Scott Cobb said...

This is great that Texas is compensating innocent people who have spent years and years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

My question is how much is Texas going to pay to the family of Todd Willingham for having executed him even though he was innocent.

PirateFriedman said...

This is a reasonable idea.

But I wonder if those convicts who have a previous criminal record will be eligible for compensation.

If they are, maybe their victims could sue them and get a piece of the mullah.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you do a little investigating about the plaintiff's lawyers that are going to get rich of the exonerated's compensation. It is the dirty little secret no one is talking about. These guys are getting screwed again by lawyers charging 33% up to "the entire amount of your settlement" as one contract states for filling out a couple of pages of paperwork.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anon 10:42, so you've seen these fellows' contracts with their lawyers? You must have first-hand knowledge. You should put your real name on your comments.

As it happens, I do have first-hand knowledge about this. In the interest of full disclosure, one of the plaintiff's lawyers, Kevin Glasheen, hired me this spring to lobby on the compensation bill. Here's the background on the lawyers involved:

The old law gave exonerees $50K per year wrongly incarcerated one-time with no annuity, and they had to choose between that and suing. After Wiley Fountain spent out his award in a few years and ended up pushing a shopping cart around the streets of Dallas, many exonerees decided to sue instead of take the $50K. So they hired lawyers with the usual contingency contracts. These were full blown Sec. 1983 civil suits that were all in progress - a huge undertaking as any attorney who's taken on those suits can attest. If they'd won, they'd deserve the contingency fees.

When it became apparent it was possible to get this legislation passed, Glasheen devoted himself nearly full-time to making it happen and was arguably the most important reason the bill passed. Without those lawyers, in other words, there wouldn't be any compensation bill; I can pretty much assure you of that.

When it was clear they were going to settle the suits and take the compensation if the bill passed, the fees on the exonerees I'm aware of were lowered to 25%. I was at the meeting in Dallas where it happened. That amount doesn't bother me under the circumstances; the lawyers had many months invested in briefs, depositions and hearings in civil suits, lobbying at the Lege, etc., and they deserve to be paid for the services. The harsh truth is, the exonerees couldn't have done it for themselves.

Finally, many of the guys began taking advances on the ultimate payout which came out of attorneys' pockets - sometimes pretty significant amounts. That's why the contract might indeed say up to the full amount, but only if they'd been advanced that much already.

Exonerees who get out after this law passed, I agree, don't need to hire a lawyer to seek compensation. But these guys made a choice that was their right under the law to reject the compensation and sue. As such, I don't personally begrudge the attorneys their fees in the cases so situated.

Anonymous said...

Well said Grits...

Anonymous said...

At last, something in justice policy that Texans can be say we are "No. 1" and be proud of it.

Roy said...

Stick the police department responsible for the particular false conviction with the entire cost. This would encourage them to reduce the number of phony cases railroaded through the courts.

When it gets to the point they have to lay off cops, or accept large pay cuts, in order to keep behaving badly, maybe then they will see the light. Or not. At any rate, impoverishing the PD will reduce their capacity to do harm.

MidCoast Kid said...

Wow, this is amazing. The Texas criminal justice system seems to have done something right, for once.

Anonymous said...

Will it be more profitable to do 10 years prison time or work 10 years earning minimum wage?