Possible Bill Could Help With Wrongful Incarceration

Proposed legislation, Senate Bill 162: Compensation of Victims of Wrongful Incarceration, would impact the prison system set in place if passed.  

In the United States, there are roughly 2.4 million incarcerated people in federal penitentiaries, state corrections facilities and local jailhouses.

SB 162 stated that if a wrongfully incarcerated person was convicted of, pled guilty or nolo contendere to or was serving a similar incarceration for another violent felony before or during his or her wrongful incarceration, the person is disqualified from receiving compensation under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.

Some who are aware of the bill are concerned that the bill is too general and could be problematic.

Daniel Agnew, a former incarcerated individual and Dream Defender located in Miami, said the bill does not address the problems of incarceration.

“There is probably not any due process to find the truth behind individuals’ cases. [For example,] ‘was this officer profiling me when he pulled me over, without probable cause, and found a pound of weed which got me 5 years in prison?’,” Agnew said.  “Who’s to say every time a person was incarcerated wasn’t due to wrongful conviction?”

Senator Arthenia Joyner, a Florida Senator and sponsor of SB 162, said that the goal of this legislation was to correct the requirement of precluding eligibility based on a previous felony conviction.

Joyner continued, “In 2008 when the original measure passed, the leadership of the Legislature would not allow the bill to move forward without this restriction.”

“I cannot speak for the mindset of those individuals.  I can only presume that among some people there is a presumption that individuals with criminal histories are more inclined to be guilty than others,” Joyner said.

Joyner has sponsored this bill almost every year since the original bill was adopted in the 2008 legislative session.

“When it was initially passed, the bill contained what is commonly referred to as ‘a clean hands provision,’” Joyner said. “This precluded anyone who had a previous felony conviction of any type from eligibility for compensation.  This legislation in part removes that prohibition.”

Florida A&M University students find this bill alarming as well. Ronald Nelson, a third-year pre-law student from Tampa, Fla., said that compensation cannot replace lost time, but he feels that this bill will allow the state to right their wrongs.

“The United States owns the rank as number one in prison population in the world. America makes up only 5 percent of the world population, but contributes over 25 percent of it’s prisoners. Most of these prisoners are people of color,” Nelson said.

Rashad Woods, a senior criminal justice student from Miami, Fla., expressed his concern with the bill, 961.04 Section 2.

“I think there should be a provision to that because I am thinking of cases such as this: A citizen is serving time for a conviction of a crime in which he or she did not commit and while incarcerated was charged with a violent offense for being involved in an altercation with other inmates,” Woods said. “If it can be proven that such inmate did not initate such violence and acted in self-defense in protection of his/her own life should be eligible for compensation for the wrongful conviction.”

In the Legislature, general bills pass in committees and on the floor by a simple majority — 50 percent plus one vote of the members present. 

Bills must pass in identical form by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

Once a bill has passed the Legislature, it must be approved by the Governor to become law.