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Fla. Lawmakers Looking At Making It Easier For Exonerees To Receive Compensation

Florida Channel

Florida lawmakers may be looking at getting rid of the state’s so-called “Clean Hands” provision. That provision stops those with a prior felony record from automatically receiving compensation, even if they were wrongfully imprisoned for a new crime.

“My name is Herman Lindsey,” said Lindsey, during a recent Senate Criminal Justice committee hearing. “I was sentenced to death back in 2006, and in 2009, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously acquitted me of my charges.”

About 10 years ago, Lindsey was convicted of robbing and killing a pawnshop owner in 1994. He was later exonerated by the Florida Supreme Court. But, because of prior felony convictions, he didn’t receive any compensation from the state—under a rule in a 2008 law called the “Clean Hands” Provision.

“It’s basically saying, ‘we can take anybody that has a criminal record and say let’s falsely incarcerate him and when he found it wasn’t really him, we can actually put him out on the streets and we don’t actually even have to worry about it.’ I didn’t receive any apology,” he added. “I didn’t receive any compensation.”

While he says he most likely won’t be covered, Lindsey is in favor of a bill that would at least modify the eligibility requirements for automatically receiving compensation, under the Clean Hands provision. The bill by Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) would only apply to those with a prior nonviolent felony record.

“Out of 26 exonerees from death row in the Florida since 1979, there were was a number of four who have been compensated with the Clean Hands Act,” Lindsey continued. “Now, perhaps, this might open the door for 10. At least Florida is showing that they’re willing to now accept responsibility for the wrongs they’re causing for the victims they’re creating.”

Still, Lindsey he says he hopes lawmakers will look into repealing the Clean Hands provision.

“Because of the life that you have to live after you’ve actually been exonerated, especially from death row,” he stated. “You have to keep in mind that I suffered depression, anxiety, but most important I still serve a life sentence. Anytime I apply for a job, anytime I apply for residence, it still has that murder charge on my record. And, even though it says not guilty now, who’s actually going to give you a chance at a job if you already had a problem with a murder that you didn’t even commit?”

And, that mindset to remove the “Clean Hands provision” is now starting to gain bipartisan traction in the Florida legislature.  That includes Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

“If the state and the people of the state get it wrong, it shouldn’t matter what individuals have done in their past,” he said. “We should we willing to stand up and say we made a mistake and we’re going to compensate you for that mistake on this issue. So, hopefully, as this bill moves forward, we will continue to that discussion and can find a place to land this with our friends in the House that completely removes that provision.”

And, Sen. Bradley says given Lindsey’s story and other feedback he’s received over the years, he’s convinced and now wants to change his bill to remove “Clean Hands” altogether.

“You guys convinced me,” said Bradley. “You know, upon reflection, I think the right policy is to completely do away—like the other 32 states—with the Clean Hands provision. And, if the House wants to discuss modifying that to bring this home, then we can have that discussion at that period of time. But, that’s where I stand at this point in time.”

Bradley along with former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) have been filing this bill for the past few years. And, he says if it dies again in the committee process, he’ll continue bringing it back as long as he’s in the legislature.  Meanwhile, the bill in its current form has unanimously passed its first Senate committee.

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

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.