Florida Clean Hands Rule Keeps Exonerated From Compensation


Florida passed a law four years ago that was supposed to entitle wrongfully convicted people to receive monetary damages for the time they spent in prison. Under this law, wrongfully convicted people are entitled to receive $50,000 for each year of incarceration up to a limit of $2 million. So far, only three people have recovered damages totaling $3.2 million pursuant to this compensation law.

Many wrongfully imprisoned people cannot be paid because of the law’s “clean hands” provision. This provision excludes convicts who committed crimes while they were in prison, and convicts who committed other crimes before they were wrongfully convicted of another criminal charge and sent to prison for it.

Thirteen convicts have been proven innocent through DNA testing since 2003. Six of them cannot receive money damages for wrongful incarceration because of the clean hands provision. Two of the remaining seven convicts were paid pursuant to the Florida compensation law; one died before he could be exonerated; one received compensation from local authorities; and three received damages pursuant to legislative claims bills.

Before the compensation law was passed, the only way for wrongfully convicted people to receive damages was through legislative claims bills. Since then, the state legislature has passed claims bills that provided compensation for two wrongfully convicted people who were not otherwise allowed to receive compensation under the Florida law because of previous convictions. The Department of Financial Services recently approved payment under the compensation law for a third convict who spent 26 years in prison for allegedly committing rapes in South Florida. DNA testing proved his innocence, and he was released in 2005. He received nearly $1.3 million.

Our justice system was built to ensure that everyone gets a fair and unbiased trial as well as the opportunity to defend themselves against any charges. Unfortunately, these wrongful convictions show that it does not always work. An experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to help expose the injustices that led to a wrongful conviction and help the wrongfully convicted person receive compensation for the time they should not have spent in prison.

Source: Bradenton Herald, “Three in Florida compensated under wrongful conviction law,” Associated Press, Sept. 19, 2012

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