Wrongful Convictions Could Cost State Big Bucks
In the past week, two news items dealing with wrongful convictions came to light. One was for a Utah man freed after spending 4 ½ years in prison for a robbery; the other for a New York man released after serving 17 years for a murder he didn’t commit.
In the former case, charges were dropped two years ago. Under a new Utah law that took effect in May 2008, innocent people are entitled to compensation for each year they wrongly spend in prison. Five days after the law took effect, 56-year-old Harry Miller petitioned for compensation for the 4 ½ years he was incarcerated. He was the first person to do so. Last week, the Utah Court of Appeals ruled he should get a new hearing to prove his innocence. Miller is due to collect $160,000 if he overcomes the Utah Attorney General’s Office challenge to his claim. That’s $36,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, this amount being equal to the state’s average annual salary.
In order to avoid compensating those inmates released on a technicality, the law requires people to prove thay are “factually innocent” in a court hearing. Miller’s attorneys apparently have some pretty good witnesses and facts in their quiver.
In the case of the New York man, Fernando Bermudez, who last week walked out of Sing Sing prison, a Manhattan judge overturned his 1992 conviction, based on ”false and unreliable witness testimony” leading to the trial. Prosecutors are weighing a potential appeal.
Readers of The-Slammer can look forward to an excellent Guest Commentary dealing with wrongful justice system decisions to appear soon. – ED