From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
April 17, 2001
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-8393

Senate Stands Up For Wrongfully Imprisoned

Senate approves Ellis legislation to provide additional compensation to wrongfully convicted

(Austin)//The Texas Senate today stood up for wrongfully imprisoned Texans, approving legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) to increase the level of compensation for the wrongfully convicted.

The Senate approved SB 536, which will correct serious miscarriages of justice by allowing a wrongfully imprisoned person to receive compensatory, economic and medical compensation from the state.

"Sometimes it's not enough just to say 'I'm sorry'," said Ellis. "When such a life-altering mistake has been made, the state clearly has a moral obligation to help give wrongfully imprisoned Texans the opportunity to rebuild their lives."

Senate Bill 356 will allow a wrongfully convicted Texan to receive damages if the person has served all or part of his sentence and received a full pardon, or had the conviction vacated, dismissed or reversed based on innocence.

Under the bill, the person is entitled to compensation which can include: lost wages, salary or other economic damages, counseling and medical expenses as a result of the conviction, expenses associated with criminal proceedings and appeals, $25,000 for each full year of wrongful imprisonment, and attorney's fees for seeking this compensation.

During committee testimony, Anthony Robinson, a Houston man cleared by DNA evidence and pardoned, and Janet Popp, whose daughter, Nancy DePriest, was murdered in Austin, testified in favor of the legislation. Christopher Ochoa and Richard Danziger were wrongfully convicted for the murder of Ms. DePriest and have since been released following a confession by another inmate.

Under current law, persons wrongfully imprisoned, no matter the time they served in prison, are entitled to maximum cap of $25,000 for medical expenses and $25,000 for physical and mental pain and suffering, for a total of $50,000. The person must be pardoned by the Governor to seek the damages. The cap was established in 1965 by the 59th Legislature and has not changed.

"Compassion is not a sign of weakness, it is a hallmark of justice," said Ellis. "This common- sense reform sends a signal that Texas will stand up to right a wrong."