In the criminal courts of this country, we say that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Many times this means that a jury of the defendant’s peers finds the evidence against him or her to overwhelmingly suggest guilt. However, there are still times when the jury is wrong, and an innocent man is found guilty of a crime he did not commit.
When men and women are wrongfully convicted and wrongfully incarcerated, it is not only their lives that are affected but also the lives of all those around them. Wrongful incarcerations can span lifetimes and take away entire generations from families. Children can grow up without parents, and offenders are forever branded by the time they spent in prison, making the transition back into the community undoubtedly difficult.
There is nothing in this world that can give time back to those who have been robbed of their freedom and later exonerated by better evidence, but there are small measures that states have implemented to assist some exonerees in their transition back into freedom after wrongful incarceration.
Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act
Established in 2008, the Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act provides for some compensation for those who have been exonerated by their crimes by more explicit evidence such as DNA testing. In Florida, the exonerees who qualify can be eligible for $50,000 per year that they were wrongfully behind bars.
In 2017, Florida passed new legislation that loosened the eligibility criteria from the strict “Clean Hands” policy that existed before. There was much debate over the harshness of the original criteria that stated that exonerated people would not be eligible for compensation from the state if they had been previously convicted of a felony of any kind. Causing the situation where the conditions for receipt of funds were determined by the facts of the recipient’s criminal record before and during their wrongful incarceration.
Now, the “Clean Hands” policy only prohibits the wrongfully incarcerated from receiving funds if they were previously convicted of a violent felony or more than one non-violent felony prior to their wrongful conviction.
Changes to provisions such as the “Clean Hands” policy can help people like William Dillon, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, but who could not seek compensation for his wrongful incarceration at the time due to a previous conviction for possession of a Quaalude.
Any assistance with the transition back into the community after a wrongful incarceration can make a difference in helping an exoneree get back on his or her feet and back into a productive life.
If you or someone you know has been wrongfully accused of a crime, you may face the possibility of a wrongful conviction and incarceration. It’s important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can assist with building a solid defense. If you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime due to ineffective assistance of your counsel, it may be a good idea to seek a more experienced defense counsel to appeal your case.
Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act | Innocence Project of Florida. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://floridainnocence.org/content/?tag=victims-of-wrongful-incarceration-compensation-act
Miami Herald Editorial Board. (n.d.). It’s right to pay the wrongly convicted in Florida. Retrieved from http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article163643823.html