By Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA – The state House of Representatives has passed legislation to replace the current system for compensating wrongfully convicted Georgians who spent years in prison with a new process supporters say is clearer and more consistent.
Under House Bill 1354, which passed unanimously early Tuesday evening, those who have been exonerated of a crime for which they were wrongfully convicted would no longer have to find a member of the House willing to introduce a private compensation resolution.
Instead, they would apply to a newly created panel of legal experts that would include a criminal court judge, a prosecutor, a criminal defense lawyer and two other attorneys. The panel would review the case and make a recommendation to the House Appropriations Committee.
“An individual would have to prove they’re innocent, to demonstrate with testimony that they’re innocent,” said Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, the bill’s chief sponsor.
Holcomb said 38 states have such a system in place for compensating the wrongfully convicted.
Under Holcomb’s bill, compensated would range from $50,000 to $100,000 for each year the individual was incarcerated. The average compensation among the states is about $70,000 a year, he said.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, one of the bill’s cosponsors, said the law would kick in only after a conviction has been overturned.
“It provides a consistent process that allows experts to analyze these issues,” he said. “Legislative authority is not eroded here. In fact, it’s strengthened because we get experts making a recommendation.”
The Georgia Innocence Project, an advocacy group that fights to free the wrongfully convicted, praised the House for passing the bill with bipartisan support.
“No piece of legislation can give back the years taken from people who have suffered the tragic consequences of imprisonment for a crime they did not commit,” said Clare Gilbert, the group’s executive director. “This bill does provide some financial security for exonerees to rebuild their lives in freedom.”
The legislation now heads to the state Senate.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.