Senate panel OKs compensation for the wrongfully convicted

A measure advancing in the Indiana Senate would compensate residents found to have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.

The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee made minor revisions to the House-approved legislation Tuesday before voting 7-0 in favor of it. The measure now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further analysis of its financial impact on the state.

Indiana is one of 17 states that provide no compensation for people exonerated of crimes.

The legislation would generally permit people exonerated after being convicted of a crime to receive $50,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned.

To receive the money from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, they would have to dismiss any existing civil lawsuit or agree not to sue the state, a local government or any public official or employee.

State records show that at least 34 people who spent years, and sometimes decades, locked up for crimes they didn't commit may be eligible for up to $18.4 million in payments if the measure becomes law.

That pool is expected to shrink in future years as DNA is increasingly used upfront to avoid false imprisonment.

The revisions the Corrections and Criminal Law Committee approved Tuesday to the measure include clarifying that an exoneree with a pending lawsuit is not required to drop it until his or her claim for the $50,000 per year payment is approved.

The panel also sharpened the definition of innocence and made changes to permit innocent county jail inmates to also seek restitution.

The timetable for seeking state payment was also changed to give past exonerees until Nov. 1, 2021, to file a claim.

Future exonerees would have two years following a vacated conviction or a governor's pardon to request payment.

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