Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Waiting for the State to do the Right Thing

Associated Press, Published January 21, 2008, TALLAHASSEE - Alan Crotzer is working at a landscaping company, hoping one day to be compensated for the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn't commit.

Florida lawmakers have for a couple of years failed to pass a bill to pay him - and he's again asking the Legislature for $1.25-million for the two decades of freedom he gave up.

It's too bad for Crotzer that he doesn't live somewhere else. Several states have automatic compensation for people who have been wrongfully imprisoned and then released - something that's happening more and more because of increasing use of DNA to prove innocence.

But Florida remains one of 28 states that don't guarantee compensation for those who spent precious years behind bars for something they didn't do. Nine men have been freed by DNA in Florida in recent years, but only one has received money.

Crotzer, 47, is seeking money for himself - but he'd rather the state make money available for anyone in his situation. He said most men released after years behind bars - especially those who were, like him, young when imprisoned - have a hard time starting over without help. They're usually broke, and most have no job prospects. All they really know is prison life.

Continue reading.


Anonymous said...

Florida has not been exactly progressive, in recent years. I am a Floridian..and am glad to see this website and Florida attorneys that are involved in these important issues.

I have a question, perhaps one of you could answer. Are you aware of any type of innocence project in this state that addresses those cases where DNA cannot exonerate ..e.g., where wrongful convictions result from faulty eye-witness testimony etc., but lack any DNA evidence?

A few years ago, I met a young man who was wrongfully convicted in Palm Beach Cty's first "road rage" case. Vishnu is from Trinidad and is of Indian descent. The trial was right after Sept 11, and he was convicted and sentenced to 43 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Vishnu finally was freed after several years, and with the help of two excellent appellate attorneys. This case should never have been prosecuted. The trial attorney had never tried a criminal case, and failed to preserve objections, which severely limited grounds for appeal. There was no DNA evidence. Heck, there was no evidence. The single faulty single eye-witness testimony was finally thrown out, and Vishnu was freed.

During the several years of his trial and imprisonment, Vishnu's life and the lives of his family were totally disrupted. I met with him and his family a couple of times since his release, and they are working to put their lives back together.
Something should be done these people, and those who have similarly suffered.

I will never forget Vishnu, his family and this case. Not every egregious wrongful conviction is a murder case, nor is DNA always available as evidence. I can only imagine how many more lives are disrupted or forever damaged by such miscarriages of justice. Vishnu was more fortunate than some, I am sure.

Criminal law is not my line of work, but I am interested in the innocence project and similar efforts. There is a dire need for change in public opinion and policy.

Toni said...

Thanks for speaking out on this issue. Any positive changes to the system will come from more people lending their voices to the cause.

Unfortunately Vishnu's story is not uncommon. And, as you pointed out, when an innocent person is convicted and incarcerated, he is not the only one to suffer. The ripple effect moves through family and friends and can continue for generations.

Sorry to say that there is no project in Florida to handle non-DNA cases. In fact, we're the only project currently taking on new DNA cases. There is a real need for someone to address the non-DNA cases; we hope to eventually, but that will require a substantial increase in our resources.