California exoneree James Ochoa is seeking $31,700 in compensation for the 10 months he spent in prison for a carjacking that DNA proves he didn’t commit, but state officials have announced that they plan to deny his request because he pled guilty. The law states that an exoneree can be compensated if he didn’t “contribute to his conviction.” Although state representatives involved in drafting the law have said excluding guilty pleas wasn’t the intent of the law, a hearing officer in charge of compensation claims is citing this clause in his recommendation to deny Ochoa’s claim. A final hearing in the case is set for April.
Los Angeles Times columnist Dana Parsons writes today that the state is making a mistake to deny Ochoa’s claim:
With California in financial trouble (who isn’t?), I thought you’d like to know how the state is saving you money. It could have agreed to pay James Ochoa $31,700 for doing 10 months in the state pen for a carjacking he didn’t commit.
It said no…
Ochoa, then 20, was arrested at his Buena Park home in May 2005 not long after a robbery-carjacking outside a nearby nightclub. The victims described the carjacker and an officer thought it matched Ochoa, whom he’d recognized from an earlier stop. The two victims were taken to Ochoa’s home and identified him as he sat in his driveway. Before the trial that December, however, DNA testing by the Orange County crime lab excluded Ochoa as the person inside the victim’s car, which had been recovered. Unbowed, the district attorney’s office proceeded with the case….
To avoid the possibility of a life sentence for a crime he knew he didn’t do, Ochoa took a two-year deal. He was 20, had a bogus eyewitness identification staring him in the face and wasn’t too keen on a potential lifetime sentence.
What would you do?
Read the full column here
. (LA Times, 03/18/08)