COMPENSATING THE INNOCENT

The Punishment Continues After Incarceration

When an innocent person is released from prison, their immediate feelings are often joy and relief. Shortly after release however, the realization of what was taken becomes a major hurdle in the struggle to resume their former life. The agony of prison life and the complete loss of freedom are compounded by thoughts of what life might have held if not for the time they lost.  Deprived for years of family, friends, and the ability to forge a career, the nightmare does not end upon release.

Who Should be Compensated?

A person who has been wrongfully convicted of a crime in Minnesota and sentenced to prison, who is later proven innocent and would likely never have been charged in the first place (had certain evidence been available),  should receive compensation for the time they spent in prison. Under the proposed legislation, an exoneree must meet 5 specific requirements in order to receive compensation.

Do All States Have Compensation Statutes?

30 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government, all have some form of a compensation statute.  The following 20 states do not: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

States with Compensation Statutes

Why Should All States Compensate Exonerees?

Despite their proven innocence, the difficulty of reentering society is profound for exonerees; the failure to compensate them adds insult to injury.  Society has an obligation to promptly provide compassionate assistance to the wrongfully convicted in the following ways:

Monetary Compensation, Awarded at a Court’s Discretion

  • Provision of immediate services typically provided to the recently released, including:
  • Financial support for basic necessities, including subsistence funds, food, transportation, and affordable housing;
  • Provision of medical/dental care, and psychological and/or counseling services; and
  • Assistance with the development of workforce skills.

Official Acknowledgement of a Wrongful Conviction

  • Conceding that no system is perfect, the government’s public recognition of the harm inflicted upon a person who was innocent but imprisoned helps to foster their healing process, while assuring the public that the government – regardless of fault – is willing to acknowledge some errors in the judicial process.

Minnesota’s Compensation Statute

During the 2014 legislative session, with the the help and support of Goff Public, Senator Ron Latz, Representative John Lesch, Representative Ryan Winkler, and countless others over many years, the Minnesota Innocence Project was able to pass landmark legislation guaranteeing financial compensation to exonerees for the time they spent wrongfully imprisoned. The House and Senate approved the legislation this May by a nearly unanimous vote, and the governor signed it shortly thereafter. It is now the law in the State of Minnesota.

At one of many legislative hearings, Minnesota Innocence Project exoneree Mike Hansen testified about being wrongfully convicted for the death of his precious baby daughter. His testimony not only brought tears to the eyes of several legislators, but words of support and apology from those same legislators. This was the first time anyone in power had ever apologized to Mike for the 6 years he wrongfully spent in prison. These words meant the world to Mike.

View the Minnesota Statute here.


Minnesota Cases

Koua Fong Lee

Koua Fong Lee spent nearly 3 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He was convicted of multiple counts of criminal vehicular homicide following a car accident in which three people died. Koua was not drunk or driving inattentively, but was convicted based on the speed that his car was travelling at the time of the accident and his relative inexperience as a driver. Koua insisted that although he kept stepping on the brake pedal, the car would not stop.

644096_10151439722503914_1479648417_nIt was not until news of the massive Toyota auto recall that Koua’s case was brought back into court and he was exonerated. While Koua was in prison, his wife raised their four young alone. Koua’s youngest was actually born while he was incarcerated. Koua missed professional and educational opportunities and important milestones in the lives of his family.

As reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on 12/2/2014: “Attorneys for Lee, who was convicted of criminal vehicular homicide after crashing his Toyota Camry in 2006, have filed a stipulation in Ramsey County District Court for him to receive compensation under a law that took effect July 1. The Imprisonment and Exoneration Remedies Act provides a minimum of $50,000 per year of imprisonment, plus actual costs incurred by the defendant, for any individual wrongfully imprisoned who meets certain other requirements.”

Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen spent nearly 7 years in prison for the murder of his infant daughter, Avryonna. He was exonerated when the District Court determined that a medical examiner made a mistaken diagnosis regarding the cause of Avryonna’s death. During the years Michael spent in prison, his other two daughters entered their teenage years believing their father murdered their sister. The reconciliation has been slow and no one can ever really compensate Michael or his surviving daughters for the years they missed together.

Compensating Mr. Lee and Mr. Hansen cannot rest upon a determination of the fault of the various actors, but a realization that our system is not perfect and occasionally makes mistakes. both men should be compensated for these mistakes.”


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