Last Modified: Monday, May 07, 2012 6:09 PM
Imagine, for the moment, the unimaginable: that you were wrongly convicted of a crime and have spent a good portion of your life — up to 27 years — in prison.
Now that your conviction has been overturned by advanced evidence technology, you face another injustice — having to wait years for compensation you are owed by the state.
Unfortunately, in Louisiana, this scenario doesn’t have to be dreamed up. It’s a real life nightmare for 16 men who were wrongly incarcerated.
They’ve spent 291 years behind bars. Now, they’re having to wait for the $2.3 million they are owed collectively from the state.
State law says that anyone wrongfully convicted is entitled to compensation if they served time and the conviction was overturned by proof is given that they were ‘‘factually innocent.’’
The state Legislature acted set up in 2005 at Innocence Compensation Fund to pay those who were wrongly convicted and were incarcerated. Problem is state lawmakers never allocated any money. Which means those who were wronged have to come hat in hand every year asking for money.
The Legislature pays $25,000 for every year a person was wrongfully incarcerated and has increased the maximum compensation from $150,000 to $250,000.
State Rep. Hebert Dixon, D-Alexandria, has filed a bill that would increase the maximum compensation for wrongful convictions to $500,000, the same limit Mississippi has. Texas, on the other hand, has a maximum compensation ceiling of $1.5 million.
Dixon’s bill would put the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice in charge of administering the Innocence Compensation Fund.
He also wants the state Supreme Court’s Judicial Council to add a fee to either court costs or traffic tickets that would fund the Innocence Compensation Fund.
That would solve the issue of those wrongly convicted having to wait on state lawmakers to allocate funds to pay them.
Michael Williams knows all too well those frustrations. The Baton Rouge man spent 24 years in Angola after being convicted of rape at the age of 16. He was later cleared by DNA testing.
While in prison his parents died and when he was released he found himself in a homeless shelter until he got a job. He has received $150,000 from the state but is waiting on an additional $100,000 which he said he will use to go back to school.
The injustice perpetrated on Williams and others is being inexplicably duplicated by needless bureaucracy.
The state owes these victims compensation that is both fair and quick. Accordingly, Dixon’s bill should receive quick approval.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.