Minnesotans wrongfully convicted of a crime would receive up to $100,000 for each year they spent behind bars, plus reimbursements for other court costs thanks to a bill that passed the House of Representatives this week.
The bill would help someone like Michael Hansen. He was convicted in the death of his baby daughter and spent almost seven years in prison. With assistance from the Innocence Project of Minnesota, Hansen was able to show the girl’s death was accidental, and the charges were dismissed in 2011.
Minnesota is one of about 20 states that do not compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted. The bill also includes a mechanism for exonerated people to receive transitional services like career counseling and mental health treatment once they leave the prison walls.
Exoneration is rare, but it does happen. Across the country, 2013 was a record year for exonerations. At least 87 people were set free for crimes they did not commit last year, the highest number since researchers began keeping track more than two decades ago.
In addition to Hansen, Koua Fong Lee of St. Paul and Sherman Townsend of Minneapolis are two other Minnesota examples. Fong Lee was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide in 2007. He hit two vehicles and killed three people and injured two others. Fong Lee said throughout the investigation that he was trying to brake when the car accelerated. The conviction was later vacated after a Ramsey County judge found ineffective assistance of counsel with Lee’s first defense attorney. The Ramsey County Attorney decided to not retry Lee and he was set free.
Townsend was imprisoned for 10 years after being falsely convicted in a 1997 home invasion. The actual perpetrator of the crime lied and told police he saw Townsend fleeing the home. The man went to prison many years later and confessed that Townsend did not belong behind bars
The bill would also pay up to $50,000 for the time someone was wrongfully on supervised release or listed as a registered offender.
Exonerated people would then file claims with the state Supreme Court. The chief justice appoints a three-member panel to determine damages. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill soon.