Press Release from State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
May 27, 2001
Contact: Jeremy Warren, (512) 463-0113

Legislation to Compensate Wrongfully Imprisoned Sent to Governor
(Austin)//Compromise legislation to increase the level of compensation for the wrongfully imprisoned passed the House and Senate today and is on its way to Governor Rick Perry's desk.

"Texas has stood up to right a wrong," said Ellis. "Sometimes it's not enough just to say 'I'm sorry.' 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."

The legislature approved the Conference Committee Report on SB 536, legislation which provides victims two options when seeking compensation. The first allows a person who has been wrongfully convicted can apply to the Comptroller for compensation. The wrongfully convicted person would be entitled to up to $25,000 for every year of wrongful imprisonment if the person provides the Comptroller with proof of incarceration and the pardon or court judgment clearing them of the crime.

The second option allows the wrongfully imprisoned to seek 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, and attorney's fees for seeking this compensation. If a person is compensated under either mechanism, he or she waives their right to additional suits. The maximum a wrongfully imprisoned Texan could recover would be $500,000.

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

During Senate 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 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."