Could This Be The Year Fla. Lawmakers Make It Easier For Exonerees To Get Compensated?

Apr 26, 2017

Herman Lindsey, formerly on death row, was exonerated in 2009. He spoke Monday to members of the House Judiciary Committee about the "Clean Hands" provision in the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.
Credit Florida Channel

Florida is the only state in the nation that bars people with a prior felony record from receiving compensation after they were wrongfully incarcerated for a new crime. But, could legislation to allow more people to receive compensation be in trouble with two diverging bills in the House and Senate?

In 2008, the Florida legislature passed a law with the goal of allowing people who were wrongfully incarcerated to receive compensation. But, it included the so-called “Clean Hands” provision.

“Under Florida law, compensation is still not available to the individual if there has been another felony conviction of any kind on their record. Someone, like, William Dillon—who after 26 years imprisoned for a murder he did not commit—could not seek compensation because he had a past conviction for drug possession: a Quaalude.”

That’s Rep. Bobby DuBose (D-Fort Lauderdale), who’s sponsoring a bill to relax the statute a bit to allow more people to be compensated.

“It is time we address this inequitable situation,” he said. “This bill does not eliminate the Clean Hands provision from our compensation statute. Under the bill, a wrongfully incarcerated person may receive compensation if he or she has one or more third degree felony convictions arising out of a single criminal act or transaction.”

Still, his bill won’t help death row exonerees, like Herman Lindsey.

“And, you don’t know whether you’re going to make it out that jail cell…when you’re faced to die and you’re there at that Florida State Prison and you’re sitting there while they’re doing an execution, and you’re hoping and you’re praying that the court’s find that you wasn’t the one that did it. You’re hoping that they find the one who did it, so you can go home,” he said. “That is a pain.”

Convicted in 2006 for a murder he did not commit, Lindsey spent three years on death row until the Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned his conviction.

By that point, the “Clean Hands” provision was in place. So, because of his prior record, Lindsey never received compensation.

“If I commit a crime with a victim and I go to court, I am going to get sentenced and the court is going to impose victim restitution. I am now a victim of the state,” Lindsey added. “And, this bill is saying, just because I have a prior conviction, I shouldn’t deserve no restitution.”

And, he says he along with many other exonerees still won’t under DuBose’s bill.

“This might allow two more out of the 26 to do it,” continued Lindsey. “And, I hope that we can in the future and take this out of this bill. Take this out of the bill! Don’t make me a victim, and then show prejudice against me. That is even more hurtful to do.”

That’s why Lindsey says he’s very supportive of the Senate proposal. Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island), the bill’s Senate sponsor, has filed this measure for several years.

But, for the first time since filing it, he says he decided to do away with the clean hands provision this year—after hearing compelling testimony from Lindsey in a prior committee.

“The amendment removes the Clean Hands provision altogether for a person who is convicted of a felony prior to the wrongful incarceration,” said Bradley. “This will make this group of people eligible for compensation from their wrongful incarceration.”

And, Bradley says his goal is to get this done.

“As long as I’m here, I’m going to file this bill every year until we pass it, and we’re going to try again this year, and I hope this is the year that we can finally get this done,” he added. “It should have been done in 2008 when the bill originally went through. I hope that we’re able to get it done this year, and make this good legislation law.”

Both bills are scheduled to be taken up on the floor this week. But, it’s unclear which bill will actually be voted on. According to Dubose’s office, they’re still in talks with the Bradley’s office to work that out.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.