Florida could expand law to compensate wrongfully imprisoned

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida could expand a law to compensate people imprisoned for crimes they didn't commit under a bill unanimously approved by a House committee on Wednesday.

Florida law currently allows wrongfully incarcerated prisoners to received $50,000 for each year they were imprisoned for a crime they didn't commit. But it doesn't allow people to make a claim if they were previously convicted of an unrelated violent crime.

A bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Bobby DuBose would strip what's called the “clean hands” provision of the current law. Dubose said Florida is the only state with a law to compensate wrongfully incarcerated people that includes the clean hands language.

“Like I tell my kids, when you're wrong, you're wrong” Dubose said. “If the state is wrong, we're wrong, and we need to address it.”

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee unanimously approved it in the first of three committee stops. A similar Senate bill has one more stop before going to the full chamber.

The bill would address anyone exonerated after July 1. Former death row inmate Herman Lindsey spoke in favor of the bill even though, as written, he wouldn't benefit from it. Lindsey was on death row for two years before the state Supreme Court released him in a unanimous 2009 decision, finding there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him of a 1994 slaying in South Florida. Lindsey described what it was like sitting in a death row cell while other inmates were being executed even though he was innocent. He said there have been many others exonerated after being condemned.

“We have to sit there and watch people executed and we have to wonder one day are we are going to be the ones that are executed. Then the glorious day comes where our innocence has been found and we are released,” Lindsey said. “Then we have to fight for compensation. We already don't get apologies ... I never received an apology.”

Several members of the committee, including Chairman Republican Rep. James Grant, praised Lindsey for his testimony. Grant also expressed a commitment to try to amend the bill going forward to compensate people like Lindsey.

“There is no greater threat to our liberty than government actually taking your life or liberty, and in Mr. Lindsey's case, having his liberty taken while his life was about to be taken,” Grant said. “If we believe that that is as grave as injustice as it is, then shouldn't we try to figure out how to make it retroactive to living individuals?”