Ellis Legislation to Streamline Compensation for Wrongfully Imprisoned Process Approved by Senate Criminal Justice Committee
(Austin)// The Senate Criminal Justice Committee today approved legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) to streamline the process for providing compensation to wrongfully imprisoned Texans. The committee approved SB 87 by a vote of 4-0.
Senate Bill 87 eliminates an onerous and burdensome provision from current law governing compensating the wrongfully imprisoned. The legislation removes the requirement that those petitioning for compensation obtain a letter certifying actual innocence from the District Attorney in the county which handled the case. Texas is the only state with such a requirement.
"Texans who have been wrongfully imprisoned should not have to jump through extra hoops in order to receive the compensation they deserve," said Ellis. "We should not add insult to injustice."
In 2001, the legislature approved SB 536, legislation by Ellis to provide victims two options when seeking compensation. The first allows a person who has been wrongfully convicted to 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. In 2003, however, language was inserted requiring the wrongfully convicted obtain a letter certifying their innocence from the District Attorney who prosecuted them. District Attorneys have been hesitant to provide such certification in several Texas cases.
Senate Bill 87 received a boost from the testimony of Josiah Sutton and Anthony Robinson, two Texans who spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Arrested in 1998 at age 16 for rape, Mr. Sutton was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in the Texas Criminal Justice System. In 2003, DNA evidence exonerated Mr. Sutton, but bureaucratic red tape and burdensome rules have kept him from being able to receive the compensation due him under the 2001 law.
Mr. Robinson spent over 10 years in a Texas prison for a rape he did not commit. Arrested in 1986, Mr. Robinson was sentenced to 27 years in prison. In 1996, he was paroled, but he spent the next half decade working to clear his name. He took low-paying jobs in order to scrape together the $1,800 he needed to finance his own DNA test. In 2000, he received the DNA evidence he needed and received a pardon by Governor George W. Bush. Since his pardon, Mr. Robinson has graduated from Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law and is now an attorney living in Houston.
"They say success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan," said Ellis. "The DA letter provision that was snuck into law in 2003 is very, very lonely. No one has ever taken credit for that rule, so no one should mourn its passing."