Three in Florida compensated under wrongful conviction law

TALLAHASSEE -- Only three wrongfully convicted people have received compensation totaling $3.2 million under a Florida law passed four years ago, and an advocate said Tuesday that it's unlikely many more will be paid.

That's partly because of a provision excluding exonerated convicts who committed previous felonies or crimes while in prison.

"The problem is that a number of these other folks who have not been compensated yet will never get compensated under the law because they can't get past the clean hands provision," said Innocence Project of Florida executive director Seth Miller. "What happened to you before your wrongful conviction has no relation to whether the state owes you recompense for wrongfully incarcerating you."

The Innocence Project has focused on DNA testing to free inmates sentenced for crimes they did not commit.

Six of 13 people the organization lists as having been proven innocent by DNA testing since 2003 are excluded from seeking compensation by the clean hands provision, Miller said.

Many others also have the same trouble. The Death Penalty Information Center lists 22 murder convicts exonerated in Florida since 1972. Most have not been compensated, nor have others exonerated for lesser crimes.

The law pays $50,000 for each year spent in prison up to a maximum of $2 million.

Of the remaining seven exonerated people on the Innocence Project's list, only two benefited from the compensation law. As for the rest, one died before he was exonerated, one obtained a monetary settlement from local authorities and three were compensated by the Legislature through the passage of claims bills.

Before the compensation law, that was the only way wrongfully convicted people could be reimbursed. Since then, lawmakers have passed claims bills for two exonerated convicts who were excluded from the compensation law due to prior felony convictions. Miller was unsure whether the others also plan to seek claims bills.

The Department of Financial Services approved the latest payment under the compensation law in July. Luis Diaz-Martinez received nearly $1.3 million for 26 years he spent in prison for a series of South Florida rapes. He was released in 2005 as a result of DNA testing.