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Measure would make it easier to compensate the wrongfully imprisoned

Senior Editor Top Stories

Rep. James GrantLegislation to expand those qualifying for compensation after being wrongfully incarcerated in Florida may include retroactive eligibility.

House Criminal Justice Subcommittee took up HB 259 January 15 and Chair James Grant, R-Tampa, said he has discussed with subcommittee staff whether retroactive compensation could be included. It also came after emotional testimony from Herman Lindsay who spent three years on Death Row for a murder he did not commit.

The bill as proposed would be effective only for those convicted or exonerated after July 1, 2020.

Florida already has a wrongful conviction compensation law, but it does not apply to those who were convicted of unrelated violent felonies or those who have more than one non-violent felony conviction — known as the “clean hands” provision.

The proposed bill, sponsored by Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Ft. Lauderdale, would remove those limitations. It also extends the application period for seeking compensation from 90 days after exoneration to two years.

Lindsay said he didn’t qualify for the state’s existing wrongful incarceration process because he had a conviction years before his murder case.

“When we are arrested, we scream our innocence and then we’re mistakenly convicted of a crime we did not commit,” Lindsay told the committee. “Then we’re placed on Death Row and we have to watch people be executed and we have to wonder one day, are we going to be the ones who are executed?

“And then the glorious day comes where our innocence has been found and we’re released…. You have to understand how hard it is for us once we’re released…. You can’t afford health insurance or anything like that…. You don’t get any help, any apologies. You’re just booted out there into a hard life….

“This bill, at least it doesn’t outcast us because we had made a mistake years before.”

Grant thanked Lindsay for appearing and noted he had recently met with others who were wrongfully incarcerated.

“One of the things I am blown away by is the amount of grace you all carry that I’m not sure I could in a situation where the government has abused its power so much that we’ve taken somebody’s liberty for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. This spirit with which you all carry yourselves…it’s remarkable,” Grant said. “I want you to know there is a reason this bill is up week one [in the 2020 legislative session] in this committee. I want you to know there’s a reason Rep. DuBose and myself and our staff is working on it…. We cannot possibly give you back time and we cannot give you back everything, but we can relentlessly pursue justice and try to make it right.”

After several other committee members voiced support for HB 259, Grant disclosed that he talked with committee staff about making the bill retroactive, which would include people like Lindsay. The difficulty is that might allow estates for people who have died to make a claim and Grant said that could have substantial fiscal ramifications for the state.

“I find it curious at best that if we’re going to take this posture as a Legislature that there is no greater threat to our liberty than government actually taking your life or liberty…then shouldn’t we also be trying to figure out how to make it retroactive for living individuals?…. I think we should be trying to figure out the retroactive components for people who are living, who spent years of their life locked up, wrongfully incarcerated,” he said.

The bill passed 15-0 and next goes to the Judiciary and Appropriations committees.

The Senate does not have a separate bill on compensation for the wrongfully incarcerated. However, SB 346, which limits sentences for possession of certain drugs, also includes a section that has similar provisions to HB 259 for expanding compensation eligibility. That bill has passed all three of its referred Senate committee, including passing the Senate Appropriations Committee 19-0 on January 16, and is headed for the Senate floor.

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