Monday, February 4, 2008

Florida Newspapers Lining Up to Endorse Exoneree Compensation

In the last week, three of Florida's largest newspapers have stepped up to the plate and affirmed the opinion of so many citizens in Florida: If the State of Florida wrongfully arrests, convicts, and incarcerates an innocent individual, it should have a comprehensive plan in place that fairly compensates that individual for those years of their life taken from them.

Florida exonerees, including Alan Crotzer, exonerated in January 2006 after spending 24 years, 6 months, 13 days and four hours, wrongfully convicted, will again have to essentially beg the legislature to do what most Floridians know is the right thing to do.

The Daytona Beach News Journal from January 27, 2008:

For the third year running, lawmakers have a bill before them that would provide just compensation and aid for people freed from prison after proving their innocence. The proposal is relatively modest: $100,000 for every year spent wrongly incarcerated, plus tuition at a state university or college. Lawmakers should add provisions for health care and transition services -- as many states have done -- and then approve the legislation, making it easier for people who are exonerated to start the process of getting their lives on track. Twenty-three states already have similar laws.

In previous years, this legislation has run aground on petty issues. Some lawmakers insisted that people who are exonerated after pleading guilty or no-contest shouldn't be eligible for compensation -- but innocent is innocent, and many people plead guilty to offenses they didn't commit in exchange for more lenient sentences. Other legislators quibbled about the amount: Last year, the bill proposed $50,000 a year for compensation. Either sum would be fairer than the current system, which requires each exoneree to go begging to the Legislature.

Gov. Charlie Crist and Senate President Ken Pruitt have said they support justice for Crotzer, and for those who will follow him. Other leaders should follow suit. It's shameful that lawmakers have taken this long to act, and they should wait no longer.

St. Petersburg Time from January 28, 2008:

[S]upporters are committed to getting [Crotzer's] claims bill passed this year, but it makes much more sense to adopt a system of guaranteed payment for anyone similarly harmed.

A bill (SB 756) sponsored by state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, would be the right step. It provides exonerated inmates $100,000 for every year of wrongful incarceration . . . [and] also offer the wrongfully incarcerated free college tuition.

In the past, lawmakers have considered legislation that would have prevented those with a prior felony conviction from receiving automatic compensation. But that approach would exclude highly deserving people such as Crotzer, who had a previous robbery conviction when he was 17 years old. Moreover, people with mug shots in the system and a criminal record are simply more likely to be wrongly identified in a rush to judgment.

Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, says creating some kind of guaranteed compensation system for the exonerated is at the top of his list this year. We also now have a governor who has a strong moral compass on these kinds of issues.

With key state leaders on board, Florida may soon be among those compassionate states that do the right thing toward people it has wronged. Getting this done should be a top priority in Tallahassee.

Tampa Tribune from February 1, 2008:

Ken Pruitt, the leader of the Florida Senate, says compensation for the wrongfully convicted is one of his top priorities this year. . . . Yet a year ago Pruitt prevented Crotzer from receiving $1.25 million offered by the state House of Representatives. The Senate president blamed the rules "process" for stalling the Crotzer legislation, despite the House's willingness to pay up.

. . .

Whether $100,000 for every year is enough or too much should be debated among lawmakers, but it's the right approach because it would fairly compensate victims without creating a sweepstakes for wrongly accused people who believe they deserve even more.

Crotzer can't retrieve the time he lost. He deserves the money, and given the precedents for compensating others falsely imprisoned, lawmakers should see that he gets it.

So three editorial boards have spoken. Will others join them? Will the legislature even listen?

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