Lawmakers approve reform of wrongful imprisonment settlements

The state of Connecticut paid out $28 million in wrongful imprisonment awards in 2015 and 2016, significantly more than in previous years. Lawmakers passed a bill this week creating legislative oversight for those awards and a formula to determine the amount of compensation for a wrongfully convicted individual.

A significant portion of the settlements included a controversial award of $16.8 million made to four men released from prison due to a prosecutorial error. The settlement sparked outrage because the men were largely believed to be guilty and were not exonerated due to DNA evidence. The settlement resulted in the resignation of claims commissioner J. Paul Vance Jr.

Under the proposed legislation the claims commission would be able to award up to twice the median state income per year of incarceration, adjusted for inflation. It also gives the claims commissioner discretion to award an additional 25 percent, but any payout over $20,000 would be subject to legislative review.

Based on the new formula, Carlos Ashe, Darcus Henry, Sean Adams and Johnny Johnson would have received $1.3 million each, rather than the $4.2 million they were awarded.

However, the bill also expands the eligibility requirements for a wrongful imprisonment settlement, which would have laid to rest the controversy surrounding the four men.

Under previous guidelines a settlement was awarded on the basis of “evidence consistent with innocence.” Politicians, including Senate Minority Leader, Len Fasano, felt the four men did not meet this standard. However, the new guidelines would allow settlements for persons – such as Ashe, Henry, Adams and Johnson – who are convicted based on government negligence or misconduct.

Half the states in the country and the federal government have guidelines for making wrongful imprisonment settlement. Even with the reforms, Connecticut’s award formula will be generous. For instance, the federal government only allows for $50,000 per year unless it was a death penalty case in which the award would be $100,000 per year.

Under the legislation, Connecticut’s award will still be higher than both its neighbors and the federal government. The bill has not yet been signed by Governor Malloy.

There are still two settlements outstanding for this year, including an award of $6 million to Miguel Roman, who was exonerated based on DNA evidence.

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