Under California law, wrongfully imprisoned inmates may be compensated for their lost years in prison, but the current standards are so stringent, very few former inmates actually qualify.
Newly proposed legislation would ease these requirements, opening the door for more inmates to qualify for the $140/day compensation the state offers to the wrongfully convicted.
One such man who may benefit from the law changes is Glenn Payne, who spent 13 years in prison for a child-molestation conviction in 1991. The conviction was based on hair-identification that has since been discredited.
Payne was released from prison in 2005.
Payne was unable to qualify for compensation under current law, which requires former inmates to file a claim within two years of being released. They must also prove their innocence to a state board or jury.
Payne’s two-year deadline has since passed, and while prosecutors concede that he was wrongfully convicted, his lawyers have yet to present evidence of his innocence.
Presenting evidence of innocence in older cases is particularly difficult, as evidence is often destroyed.
These stringent requirements mean that the state rarely pays for its legal system’s mistakes. The California Victim Compensation Board says it has received 76 claims of innocence from former inmates since 2006 and has only approved 26 since that time. In total, the state has paid $14.1 million to the wrongly convicted.
Had Payne qualified for compensation, he would have been paid $475,000 for his 13 years in prison. He has since struggled with homelessness since being released.
However, a judge threw out his conviction in January, which frees him from having to register as a sex offender.
“A sex crime conviction can impact a person’s life for many years to come, impacting a person’s ability to obtain housing and get a job, among other things,” says Keller Law Offices.
Under the newly introduced SB109, compensation would be extended to former inmates who had their charges dropped by prosecutors after the court overturned their conviction. The changes would mean that Payne would qualify for compensation.
The bill is authored by Sens. Nancy Skinner D-Berkeley) and Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) with Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) as the co-author. The Innocence Project has sponsored the bill.
The now-discredited hair-matching evidence that led to Payne’s conviction was also used to convict almost 300 other defendants in Northern California. Eight of those convictions were based on expert testimony from the same criminalist who testified against Payne. The Innocence Project is currently tracking down those cases and is hoping to reopen them.
While financial compensation may seem like a long shot, those inmates and former inmates may be able to clear their records of the conviction.
Under SB1094, Payne would have been able to apply for state funding within two years of the date charges were dropped and he was exonerated. He would no longer need to prove his innocence.
The bill, as drafted, would not retroactively apply to older cases, but it would cover cases in which the deadline had not expired.