Daily Court Reporter - News Bill designed to correct 'error' used in some wrongfully imprisoned comp cases
Bill designed to correct 'error' used in some wrongfully imprisoned comp cases
KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer
House committee members recently heard testimony supporters and opponents on a bill meant to correct what some lawmakers and the Ohio Public Defender have characterized as a drafting error in the state law relating to compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
Specifically, House Bill 411 would correct the "error" that has resulted in the Supreme Court of Ohio ruling that wrongfully imprisoned individuals could be compensated only when a procedural error occurred in the post-sentencing portion of their case.
The circumstance has compounded the problems that arise for such individuals, according to Niki Clum, Ohio Public Defender legislative liaison.
"This (holding) has had devastating consequences on the ability of wrongfully imprisoned individuals to collect compensation," Clum said before members of the Ohio House of Representatives seated for the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee last week. "A procedural error that results in the wrong person being convicted of a crime occurs before or during trial in the vast majority of cases.
"Passage of HB 411 will allow more individuals who had years of their life stolen to receive compensation so that they can adjust to life outside of prison."
Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, was there for the original drafting of the compensation law in 2003 and explained how the Supreme Court holding in 2014 in Stave v. Mansaray changed lawmakers' intent.
"What we meant was, the error in procedure leading to reversal of the conviction must have been discovered subsequent to sentencing," he said. "The reality is that few if any 'errors in procedure' occur subsequent to sentencing, so the Mansaray case effectively blocked any wrongfully convicted person from getting compensation based on an error in procedure that resulted in the reversal of the conviction.
"Hence, the need for this bill."
Seitz has worked the past year with the Innocence Project, the Ohio Public Defender, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, joint sponsor Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, and senate leadership on the measure.
There remain, however, issues that Clum said should be considered as lawmakers work on the measure.
"R.C. 2743.48(F)(3) requires the compensation a wrongfully imprisoned person receives to be reduced by any debt they owe to the state or a political subdivision," she began. "While the public defender does not take issue with previously accumulated debt being reduced from their judgment, ... any interest that accumulated because the individual was wrongfully imprisoned should not be removed from their wrongful imprisonment judgment. ...
"Second, R.C. 2743.48(F)(5) states that if a wrongfully imprisoned person is later convicted of an offense for an act associated with the wrongful imprisonment conviction, then that person must reimburse the state for the entire sum of money paid under the wrongful imprisonment judgment."
Clum said the provision is inconsistent with state law that states that a wrongfully imprisoned person would be compensated for any part of their incarceration that was not served concurrent to another rightful conviction.
"Therefore, if the wrongfully imprisoned person was charged with an offense that is 'based on an act associated with the conviction' at the same time as the wrongful conviction, they would still be able to collect compensation for any time wrongfully spent in prison for the wrongful conviction," Clum continued. "They just would not be able to collect compensation for the prison time associated with the rightful conviction.
"Fair enough. However, the bill requires the wrongfully imprisoned person to reimburse their entire compensation if the conviction for the new offense that is 'based on an act associated with the conviction' comes after the wrongfully imprisoned person receives their compensation."
Ohio Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey offered support of the bill as introduced.
Thirty-two states allow for compensation in some form, testimony provided. The lawmakers expect HB 411 will strengthen Ohio's position among those states.
Since 1975, 62 known people have been exonerated in Ohio.
HB 411 has cosponsorship support of 10 fellow House members. It had not been scheduled a third hearing at time of publication.
Date Published: February 28, 2018