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Bill would abolish ‘clean hands’ provision

Senior Editor Regular News

Bill would abolish ‘clean hands’ provision

Wrongly incarcerated with prior felonies could still be compensated

Senior Editor

Herman Lindsey didn’t rob and murder a pawn shop owner in Ft. Lauderdale in 1994, but he was convicted of the crimes and sent to Florida’s death row anyway. The Florida Supreme Court was unanimous in ruling in 2006 that there was no evidence placing Lindsey at the scene of the crime, and he became the 23rd of 26 exonerees from Florida’s death row.

Sen. Rob Bradley In emotional testimony before both the Senate Criminal Justice and Judiciary committees, Lindsey wore a T-shirt that said “Witness to Innocence” and told his story. He described how he did not know if he would live or die for something he didn’t do. He said it feels like he’s still serving a life sentence, because there is a murder charge on his record that he has to explain away when he applies for a job and looks for a place to live with his wife and kids. He admits he has a prior record from “making bad decisions in my youth.”

And right now in Florida, a prior felony of any kind is a hurdle the wrongly incarcerated must overcome to receive any compensation from the Legislature — spelled out in law as $50,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration up to a total of $2 million. Out of 30 states with statutes providing for compensating wrongly incarcerated persons, only Florida has the so-called “clean hands provision.”

“How can you put ‘clean hands’ in the bill. . . but Florida has dirty hands also? Because I wouldn’t be wrongfully convicted if it wasn’t for Florida’s criminal justice system,” Lindsey testified.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, heard Lindsey’s testimony, and reiterated: “We don’t have clean hands as a state. What an interesting, compelling way of wording that.”

In keeping his promise to term-limited former Sen. Arthenia Joyner that he would file this bill until it passes, Bradley filed SB 494 for the third year — that would lessen the “clean hands provision” to only prior violent felonies, instead of any prior felony that prohibits the wrongfully convicted from receiving compensation from the Legislature.

But after hearing Lindsey’s testimony and support from his colleagues, Bradley went even further by amending the bill to totally remove the “clean hands provision.”

The amended bill removing the “clean hands provision” altogether passed unanimously at the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 7, and is now in Appropriations.

On March 28, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee did not go as far when it passed HB 393, sponsored by Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Ft. Lauderdale.

The House version would allow compensation only if the wrongfully incarcerated person’s prior record was limited to one or more third-degree felonies arising from a single episode. Anything more serious and they would be barred from compensation.

“I personally feel the ‘clean hands provision’ should be removed,” DuBose said in closing on his bill. “I would love by the time this reaches the floor that we could have the bill in a better posture.”

Earlier, in the Senate Judiciary Committee that voted to remove the “clean hands provision” entirely, Lindsey said: “To me, this is a big milestone. The passing of this bill is like saying, ‘I apologize. I recognize I did wrong to you. And I am sorry for what has happened to you.’. . . It is a very hurting feeling to be placed in a position where you may be sentenced to die, when the justice system found you guilty of something you didn’t do.”

Sen. Bradley said: “I hope this is the year we finally get this done. It should have been done in 2008.”

That was the year Florida passed the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Act, but because of the restrictive “clean hands provision,” hammered out as a compromise, so far only four people in Florida have been compensated for a total of $4,276,901.

A well-known example of the injustice of the “clean hands provision,” Bradley said, is William Michael Dillon, who had a single Quaalude pill in his pocket as a 19-year-old long-haired kid in 1979. That illegal possession of a sedative was enough to put Dillon’s mug shot and fingerprints in the criminal justice system that led to a wrongful conviction for a Brevard County murder in 1981. The pill was enough to disqualify this 2008 DNA exoneree from having “clean hands” that would have paved the way for easier compensation from the Florida Legislature for the 27 years he spent in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Instead, Dillon’s compensation had to wait four years until 2012, when a claims bill, shepherded through several sessions by pro bono attorney Sandy D’Alemberte, was finally successful and Dillon received $1.3 million. Later that year, the prior drug charge was wiped forever off his record when the Florida Clemency Board granted Dillon a full pardon.

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