By Jan Pudlow
Term-limited Sen. Arthenia Joyner mingled with her former colleagues on the Senate floor to finally witness the unanimous passage of one of her pet projects: changing the “clean hands” provision in the 2008 Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Act.
Before, under the act, any felony conviction, no matter how minor, prevented compensating the wrongfully incarcerated.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, promised his “dear friend” and “civil rights icon” Joyner that he would “run it until it passed and got agreement from the House to get this done. And today is that day. I am so glad that she is here to experience this.”
CS/SB 494 did not go as far as Bradley had hoped, after he heard compelling testimony from Herman Lindsey, a Florida death row exoneree with a criminal past, and amended the bill to remove the “clean hands” provision entirely.
In a compromise with the House, the “clean hands” provision was not eliminated but changed so that “an individual who has a minor drug possession charge or some other minor felony can still avail themselves of compensation,” Bradley said on the Senate floor, on April 28 before the 38-0 vote.
“Only those who are violent felons or multiple felons would be precluded from receiving compensation under this law. This puts us more in line with the other states around the country,” he said.
The original law prevented DNA exoneree William Michael Dillon, wrongly incarcerated for 26 years for a 1981 Brevard County murder he did not commit, from receiving compensation because of a single Quaalude pill in his pocket as a 19-year-old in 1979. Dillon’s compensation had to wait four years until 2012, when a claims bill was finally successful, and Dillon received $1.3 million from the State of Florida.
Five senators who are Democrats spoke up to thank Joyner and Bradley, including Sen. Gary Farmer, a Ft. Lauderdale attorney, who, as a private citizen, lobbied for the Alan Crotzer Act, to help another DNA exoneree receive $1.25 million compensation through a claims bill, because he had a prior conviction for robbery. Crotzer, exonerated in 2006, spent 24 years in prison for the 1981 crimes of rape, kidnapping, and robbery he did not commit.
“We opposed the ‘clean hands’ doctrine then. The truth of the matter is that most often someone is wrongfully accused because they have a criminal past. This is what makes them get wrongfully accused,” Farmer said.
Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, called the passing of this bill “one of my main priorities as Criminal Justice chair, and so I was happy to get the ball rolling.”
Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, admitted he was wrong in resisting Joyner’s efforts to soften the “clean hands” provision when he was in the House of Representatives.
“Sen. Joyner is a picture of perseverance. She used to come to the House and try to get me to do this bill, and I wouldn’t do it,” Baxley said. “Sen. Joyner, you were right. I am voting for this bill today.”
In the House, on May 3, CS/SB 494 passed 118-0, substituted for HB 393, sponsored by Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Ft. Lauderdale.
DuBose noted that since the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Act passed in 2008, only four people have been compensated under the act.
“Florida is among 32 states that have statutes to compensate wrongfully incarcerated individuals, while other states use a claims bill type process to provide compensation. However, it cannot be ignored that of the 32 states with a similar statute, Florida is the only one with a ‘clean hands’ requirement,” DuBose said.
Citing the case of exoneree Dillon and his Quaalude pill, DuBose said, “It is time we address this inequitable situation. . . .
“I want to point out that although this bill does not remove the ‘clean hands’ provision, it’s definitely a step in the right direction, and this is a great moment for the State of Florida.”