More than a year after a Louisiana man was exonerated by DNA evidence, a panel of appellate judges ruled last Wednesday that he is entitled to compensation under state law.
A September 19th article written by Naomi Martin for
Innocence Project New Orleans
client Darrin Hill, who was accused of a 1993 rape, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was confined to a mental hospital for two decades before DNA testing proved his innocence and identified the real perpetrator. Another jury convicted Derrick Woodberry of the 1993 rape last week. Woodberry was already behind bars for a subsequent rape conviction.
Since Hill’s conviction has been vacated and he can prove factual innocence, Hill is entitled to $25,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, with a cap of $250,000.
Although the state Attorney General’s Office argued that Hill wasn’t eligible for compensation since he was never convicted, the panel upheld a decision by Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo, who freed Hill in April 2012. According to
Marullo wrote in his ruling that Hill’s 20 years in custody, whether in jail or a state hospital, was the “same thing” because “20 years of his life was taken away from him for an act that both the State and the Defense joined in saying that he is not the guy who committed the rape.”
The 4th Circuit panel agreed, saying that Hill’s mental illness created “a nightmare scenario of indefinite incarceration.” The judges cited case law that said clearly written laws should be interpreted strictly, except when they cause “absurd consequences.”
“[To] exclude Mr. Hill from compensation for the grievous loss of almost 20 years of life opportunities, not only leads to ‘absurd consequences,’ but undermines the constitutional validity of the statute,” the ruling reads.
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