California exoneree continues to fight for compensation


James Ochoa served 10 months in a California prison for a carjacking he didn’t commit. He pled guilty to avoid a possible life sentence. In 2006, DNA evidence proved his innocence and exonerated him. He has applied for compensation under state law, but documents obtained by the Innocence Project show that state officials are seeking to deny Ochoa his compensation because he pled guilty.

A final decision is expected at the April 17 meeting of the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, but a proposed decision says that “Ochoa has not met the statutory requirements to receive compensation under Penal Code section 4900 because he contributed to his conviction by pleading guilty.”

Ochoa has argued that he pled guilty to avoid a possible life sentence. Scott Baugh, a former California lawmaker who authored an amendment to the compensation law, told the Los Angeles Times last June that Ochoa should definitely be compensated under the law.

"I find it outrageous," Baugh told the Times "that you can force someone into a Hobson's choice of 25 years to life or pleading to a crime he didn't commit and spending two years in prison, and call it a voluntary decision. Even if the judge said nothing, he's facing 25 years to life or a two-year plea bargain.”

Read more about Ochoa’s case here.

In a report issued last month, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice specifically addressed the guilty plea loophole: “The exception should not include those who were victims of false confessions or improperly induced guilty pleas. It should be limited to those who intentionally subverted the judicial process.”

Read the full CCFAJ report here.


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