Bill would compensate those wrongfully convicted of crime

Published 3:51 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

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Kentuckians who were wrongfully convicted of a crime may soon be eligible to receive monetary compensation from the state under a measure that cleared a legislative committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 178, sponsored by House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Middletown, received unanimous approval from the House Judiciary Committee.

Financial compensation under the legislation would be limited to those individuals whose convictions  were reversed or vacated, who were found not guilty on retrial, or who were issued a full pardon by the governor.

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“These people have to prove under this bill actual innocence to get any recovery,” Nemes testified before the panel.

HB 178 would grant $65,000 in damages for each year a claimant was falsely imprisoned.  If that person was on death row, the damages would increase to $75,000 per year of imprisonment. Damages of $25,000 would also be awarded for each year a claimant spent on parole, in post incarceration supervision or on the sex offender registry, whichever is greater.

Claimants would also be entitled to attorney’s fees compensation and restitution reimbursement, among other compensation if it applies, such as housing assistance.

Suzanne Hopf, supervisor of the Kentucky Innocence Project, testified in favor of the legislation alongside a few exonerees.

“Our exonerees face a tremendous amount of problems when they reenter society, and this kind of bill would allow them to get that toehold back,” Hopf said. “It wouldn’t completely make up for all the years that they’ve lost, but would at least put them in a situation where they can provide transportation for themselves.  They can get an education, and they can also provide housing.”

Advocate and exoneree Johnetta Carr was wrongfully convicted in 2008, spending four years in prison and more than eight years on parole.

“Today we have a chance to right the wrongs of history and start a new thing in Kentucky to compensate people that’s been wrongfully convicted,” Carr said.  “No amount of money will make up for the time exonerees in Kentucky spent innocently behind bars, but I do believe it is a step in the right direction.”

HB 178 now heads to the House floor.