Several men who were imprisoned in Maryland and later found to be innocent testified Wednesday in favor of a measure that would change how the wrongly incarcerated should be compensated.
Some who have been officially exonerated still cannot get compensation under the current law. Jermaine Arrington, who spent 15 years in prison for a murder in Montgomery County he did not commit, told lawmakers he still is not eligible for compensation under Maryland law, despite DNA evidence proving his innocence.
“This legislation will give me a chance to be compensated for the years that were taken away from me," said Arrington, who was imprisoned at the age of 19 and freed at 34. "It will give me a shot of finally getting justice.”
The measure would provide $78,916 for each year a wrongly convicted person spent in prison. It's based on a five-year average of the state's median household income. The formula was used last year to compensate five wrongly convicted people who had spent a total of 120 years in prison between them. The current law does not specify a monetary amount.
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The measure also would designate administrative law judges to determine who is eligible for compensation. There would be five categories for eligibility: prisoners who have been pardoned by the governor; who have a certification of innocence by a state's attorney or a finding of innocence from an administrative law judge; and prisoners whose convictions were reversed or who were retried and acquitted.
“It shouldn’t matter how a conviction was overturned. It should matter that the person can prove their innocence, and that’s what this legislation creates," said Michelle Feldman, the state campaigns director for the Innocence Project. "It’s a third avenue that allows the administrative law judge to rule that the person proved that he did not commit the crime or act as an accessory or an accomplice.”
A decision by the Board of Public Works in October to award $9 million to five wrongly convicted men was the first time in 15 years such compensation was granted.
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“We've got at least 30 others waiting,” said Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat sponsoring the bill.
Kelley said the measure also includes provisions to help the wrongly incarcerated reenter society after they are released.
“Since there are many health, education and social service needs for persons who are wrongfully convicted and confined for years or decades, Maryland is morally obligated to address the needs of our exonerees" for education, job training, health care and reimbursement for court fines and fees, Kelley said.
Kelley said 38 states have defined standards for compensation for wrongly convicted prisoners.