Bill to compensate those wrongly incarcerated advances

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A bill that would offer wrongly convicted Hoosiers compensation for their vacated prison sentences has made steps toward finality in the Indiana Statehouse.

Authored by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, House Bill 1150 aims to relieve wrongly incarcerated citizens by entitling them to $50,000 for each year of incarceration that was vacated.

The measure last week passed the Indiana House of Representatives 96-0 and the Indiana Senate with a 48-0 vote, moving one step closer to the governor’s desk for approval. The bill was amended in the Senate and first must be reconciled with the House version.

Those applying for compensation would be reviewed by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, which would ultimately decide if applicants are entitled to payment out of an exoneration fund consisting of appropriations from the general fund. Compensation would not be awarded for time spent in pretrial detention, home detention or work release.

The catch, however, would be that the wrongly convicted may only receive those funds if they forever release, discharge and waive any and all claims against the state or any other related entity or person.

Recipients of the funds must also not have pending litigation or file a claim after June 30, 2019, that could result in restitution or damages. They also must not have already received an award for a wrongful conviction.

Exonerees would not be prevented from receiving mental health or substance abuse treatments or community transition services offered by Department of Correction, community corrections or courts. They would also not be prohibited from participating in other rehabilitative or reintegration programs offered to incarcerated individuals.

Early amendments proposed by Steuerwald were grafted into the legislation while still in the House chamber. One added change would define an innocent person as someone pardoned “on the basis of innocence” or who did not “commit any act, deed, or omission in connection to a charge that constitutes an offense against the state or the United States.”

The other accepted amendment would allow exonerees to take money from the fund if they dismiss their lawsuits within 30 days of the Criminal Justice Institute’s determination of their eligibility.

Additional amendments were made in the Senate last week when Sen. Michael Young, R- Indianapolis, proposed allowing guardians of exonerees with mental or physical health issues to have the ability to acquire the funds on their behalf.

“One of the restrictions in the bill was that only the person who was incarcerated could get the funds,” Young said. “This just allows a guardian to bring the case so they can get the funds to help take care of the person.”

Young also offered an amendment to more narrowly define who is innocent of a crime.

“We want to make sure someone is actually innocent, not someone who got off on a technicality,” he said.

For example, Young posed the scenario of an individual’s conviction being overturned due to admitted evidence that should not have been admitted.

“The person was convicted because of that evidence, but it doesn’t mean they were necessarily innocent,” he explained. “Just because that occurs, you still have to prove your actual innocence.”

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