Georgia lawmakers consider overhaul of wrongful conviction compensation
ATLANTA — It was eight minutes past midnight on April 5 when the Georgia Senate voted unanimously to financially compensate Kerry Robinson for spending more than 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.
A minute later, another unanimous Senate vote awarded financial compensation to Dennis Arnold Perry, who spent more than 20 years behind bars for two murders he did not commit.
Technically, both resolutions were finally passed after the midnight deadline for the 40th and final day of the 2022 legislative session.
Waiting until the last moment to grant justice to the two men was a stark example of the need to overhaul Georgia’s wrongfully convicted compensation system, state Rep. Scott Holcomb told the House earlier this month.
“That’s not how this process should be handled,” said Holcomb, D-Atlanta. “We have to do better.”
Holcomb’s remarks came just before the House voted 157 to 17 in favor of his bill calling for a new compensation system for those wrongfully convicted.
House Bill 364 would create a panel of five members of the criminal justice system, including a judge, retired judge, or retired judge; a district attorney, a criminal defense attorney; and two attorneys, forensic experts, or law professors specializing in wrongful convictions.
Georgians who have been exonerated of a crime for which they were wrongly convicted, often using DNA evidence that was not available at the time of their trial, could submit compensation claims to the compensation for wrongful convictions.
The committee would determine whether compensation is warranted, set an amount of compensation, and report its findings to a newly created Claims Advisory Committee, chaired by the Georgia Secretary of State and comprising the State Commissioners of Human Services, corrections and transportation.
The council, in turn, would report the findings to the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, who would include any recommendations for compensation in this year’s state budget.
Compensation under the bill would be between $50,000 and $100,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, depending on the committee’s judgment.
The new system would replace a process that requires wrongfully convicted people to find a legislative sponsor for a private compensation resolution and convince the House Appropriations Committee to pass it.
“HB 384 would remove much of the partisan politics from the compensation process and impose clear criteria for determining innocence and awarding compensation,” wrote Blis Savidge, spokesperson for the Georgia Innocence Project, an advocacy group that strives to free the wrongfully convicted. email to Capitol Beat.
“Rather than snap judgments by lawmakers based on partial information passed in short legislative hearings, the wrongful convictions compensation review panel would be comprised of knowledgeable experts and have research and investigation capabilities. ‘investigation.”
Georgia Innocence Project board member Molly Parmer said 35 states and the federal government are already using the compensation system proposed in Holcomb’s legislation.
“It has been carefully checked,” she said. “It’s modeled after those existing bills.”
Parmer said there was nothing automatic about the new pay system. Those wrongfully convicted will still have to prove that their case warrants financial compensation, but in a more appropriate venue, she said.
“Certainly the experts will be in a better position to hand out compensation if they think it’s warranted,” she said.
The House passed similar legislation last year, also sponsored by Holcomb, but it died in the Senate. This year’s bill is pending before the Senate Appropriations Committee, but has not yet been heard.