Of Virginia’s 14 DNA exonerees, three have yet to be compensated and none have received the federal standard of $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment.
The state’s compensation law provides that a wrongfully convicted person can receive up to $40,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment with a cap of 20 years. Under this law, Thomas Haynesworth, who was exonerated last month after 27 years, would not be compensated for the full term that he spent behind bars.
Innocence Project Senior Policy Advocate Rebecca Brown spoke to the Richmond-Times Dispatch about the issue.
Rebecca Brown, with the Innocence Project, said a favorable aspect of Virginia’s compensation law is that an exonerated person can get a transition assistance grant of $15,000 (to be deducted from any compensation award) to help adjust from prison.
Nevertheless, she said there are aspects of Virginia’s law that could be improved. “We would say that it falls short of our recommended amount of at least $50,000 per year — that should be the baseline,” she said.
And capping awards at 20 years is unfair to anyone who served more than 20 years, said Brown, the senior policy advocate for state affairs. “One should be compensated for each year served.”
Also, just giving 20 percent initially can be a problem. “That can prove burdensome for the exoneree who may not have adequate funding to get back on his feet,” she said.
State Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, may amend a bill before the General Assembly to allow Haynesworth to be compensated for the full 27 years.
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