Lawmakers propose bills to pay wrongfully convicted Hoosiers

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- In a rare show of bi-partisan unity on behalf of ex-offenders who served time in Indiana prisons, two state lawmakers have introduced companion bills to compensate Hoosiers wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

Rep. Greg Steurerwald, an Avon Republican, and Rep. Greg Porter, an Indianapolis Democrat, have both submitted proposed legislation to pay exonerated defendants between $25,000 and $35,000 a year for each year they served time after a wrongful conviction.

“We’re looking at people who are innocent and should never have been in the system,” said Steurerwald.  “If we have one wrongful conviction, that’s too many.”

The National Registry of Exonerations lists 23 Indiana inmates who were found not guilty after incarceration since 2011.

Those cases were overturned by mistaken witness identification, false or misleading forensic evidence, official misconduct, false confession or perjury or false accusation.

Both bills introduced to the General Assembly would rely on DNA testing results to exonerate a defendant and make him or her eligible for payment.

“We wholeheartedly believe in the credibility of a DNA sample and how sophisticated it’s become,” said Steurerwald. “If you’re exonerated in some means by some DNA sample test that’s given, then you’re entitled to payment for every year that you have been incarcerated at DOC.”

Porter said that reliance on DNA results is a starting point to compensate the wrongfully convicted even though exonerated defendants cleared for other reasons would not yet be eligible.

“I’ve had some constituents come to me and say my family members have also been hit by this situation of being falsely incarcerated for a number of years,” said Porter. “Absolutely it’s the right thing to do. You cannot push a reset button for the rest of your life. If you’ve been away incarcerated for ten years, that’s ten years you can never ever ever ever get back.”

If enacted, the payments would be restricted to defendants whose cases will be exonerated after June 30, 2017.

33 states have some form of exoneration settlement.

Wrongly convicted defendants in Texas are eligible for payments of $80,000 per year of illegal incarceration.

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