Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Innocence in Florida: the Wrongful Incarceration Act

The Innocence Blog had a post yesterday detailing the problems with the proposed Wrongful Incarceration Act in Florida. This piece of legislation which is currently waiting on the Governor's signature was proposed as a method of making it easier for those who are found to have been wrongfully convicted to receive financial compensation from the State without having to engage in the current legal quagmire necessary to be eligible for an amount higher than the sovereign immunity imposed $200,000 cap. While the Wrongful Incarceration Act has emerged as something that does not achieve it's primary stated goal, the main controversy is the "clean hands" portion of the Act which will prevent anyone who has been convicted of a prior unrelated felony from being able to collect any form of compensation from the State. The Tallahassee Democrat quotes Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project in Florida, who sums up the controversy quite effectively.
"You're innocent when we release you but you're not innocent enough to be compensated?" said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. "These two ideas just don't jibe together."

While this statement very concisely explains the Act's opposition, perhaps an example mentioned earlier in the same article better highlights exactly what kind of people will no longer be eligible for compensation.
Orlando Boquete, who in 2006 was exonerated from a sexual battery and burglary conviction based on DNA evidence, won't have an easy road to compensation either. The new law prevents those with prior felonies from receiving automatic compensation, but Boquete's prior felony is a conviction for escaping while serving his wrongful imprisonment.

It's important that states like Florida and others are beginning to publicly deal with the reality of wrongfully convicted individuals. I hope this is a continuing trend. However, this particular piece of legislation is truly a step backwards.

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