Florida Moves to Compensate the Wrongly Convicted

Wrongfully imprisoned inmates shouldn't have to beg the legislature or wait 20 years for compensation. Florida is making moves to correct the problem, and the Daytona Beach News Journal endorses it.

Wilton Dedge, released last year after spending 22 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit, will not have to wait as long. The horror over the waste of Dedge's youth, and the incontrovertible evidence of injustice, struck a chord with the state's most powerful politicians. Acknowledging that money will never replace the lost years, they've vowed to give Dedge the means to create a new life.

Better still, they're facing reality by acknowledging that more exonerations are likely to come as inmates make use of new scientific techniques to establish their innocence. Senate President Tom Lee said this week that he wants to create a uniform system for wrongfully convicted people to seek compensation -- without having to hire a lobbyist and go begging to the Legislature. Under Florida law, it would be illegal for the state to offer Dedge more than $100,000. Lee says that should be changed.

What's needed is a framework that sets a standard for compensation, but allows for an impartial review that can adjust restitution figures based on individual circumstances. Nor should the state look to be stingy with those who have been so drastically wronged. Dedge, whose story became the focus of a documentary shown at this year's Sundance Film Festival, has spoken eloquently about the changes years in prison wrought -- the fear of crowds, the constant urge to seek permission for the simplest acts. He'd never talked on a cell phone, never used a computer.

Using a formula set by the state of Alabama, Florida could easily award Dedge $1 million or more. That sounds reasonable, considering what the state took from him.

The editorial goes further and addresses a very important issue--the need to get rid of arbitrary time limits on bringing innocence claims:

The Dedge case should also inspire lawmakers to look beyond the bottom line. Over the past few years, the Legislature wrote laws giving inmates access to DNA testing that might prove their innocence. It was a step in the right direction, but the laws didn't go far enough. Many inmates could lose their chance to appeal due to looming deadlines. For others, the one-shot nature of the appeals law denies them access to newer, better testing methods. Many also want to challenge scientific evidence used at their trials that has since been discredited.

Artificial time limits shouldn't matter. If there's a good reason to suspect innocence, and a new test that could prove it, the state owes inmates a right to make their case.

The bottom line:

The Dedge case goes beyond the fate of one 43-year-old man. It speaks to a common fear that an innocent person can be arrested, convicted and imprisoned at the hands of an uncaring state. By passing strong laws to protect the innocent and comfort the wrongly convicted, state leaders advance justice for all.

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    Sounds like a plan to me - I've forwarded this article to my state legislatures - perhaps NC will take some steps in that direction. I expect any organization or system to make certain kinds of mistakes, but I also expect them to be made whole. -C

    Re: Florida Moves to Compensate the Wrongly Convic (none / 0) (#2)
    by john horse on Sun Feb 13, 2005 at 12:45:03 PM EST
    I'm pleasantly pleased and surprised to hear that Dedge was compensated. Since this is a law blog, a big thankyou should also go out to the lawyer who presented his case before the legislature, Sandy D'Alemberte. D'Alemberte is the former President of FSU, former dean of the FSU law school, former President of the ABA, etc. Needless to say, he didn't have to take this case.

    Not going far enough. We need statutes that would allow for prosecution and jail time for investigators and prosecutors who deliberately manufacture evidence or hide exculpatory evidence. There need to be disincentives for the prosecutor types to do anything for a conviction.

    Re: Florida Moves to Compensate the Wrongly Convic (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Mon Feb 14, 2005 at 09:48:16 AM EST
    Hear Hear CA. A payday is all well and good (heck, One million per day in prison isn't enough)...but until prosecutors are forced to pay for their misdeeds, things won't change and innocents will continue to be jailed at an alarming rate. FWIW...I consider one wrongful inprisonment per year an "alarming rate" for our system.

    Im not sure there have been common cases with the effect of an antidepressant. Even his own aunt, who was sad at first stuck by his side. What would you do if you heard voices in your hand this burning feeling under your skin! And some point it may have been his fault, but still kill your grandparents just because you got in trouble. There's something wrong with that something not right!!!!!!!!!!!!!!11

    Fair enough. But how about an automatic money judgment for the victims of crime? Often victims don't sue because it's expensive and not likely to generate actual money for years, if ever. But what if a similar review board existed, and awarded victims money judgments based upon a set criteria, without the need for a long, drawn out and expensive proceeding (one which, quite frankly, attorneys won't take on contingency because of the non-likelihood of collection). What if the judgment had no expiration? What if the State kept track of released criminals' incomes, and liened them for victims, like it does with dead-beat dads? Or, how about setting up a pool to compensate crime victims (New York already has a sparsely-funded Crime Victim's Board that does provide truly needy victims with emergency relief.) The pool could be funded with a lifetime victim's surcharge, say 10%, of all income earned by a convicted ciminal (or income over the poverty level).. Want to cut down DWI's? Have the penalty include the victim's surcharge. Convicted of larceny? Once you're guilty, anything you earn gets surcharged 10%. It would be easy to collect--right off the tax return. And it would start to compensate victims for their loss and suffering. Serving 30 days may pay one's debt to society, but it doesn't help the victim. Make 'em pay.