Civil Recourse for Wrongful Incarceration

One of the hallmarks of the American justice system is “innocent until proven guilty”. In addition to this presumption, various constitutional rights exist to help make sure the real bad guys pay for their crimes. Your right to confront any accuser in court, to a speedy trial, and to be judged by a jury of your peers all exist to make sure the guilty are punished, while the innocent are protected.

Unfortunately, even these safeguards sometimes fail. Every year, many Americans find themselves behind bars even though they’ve done nothing wrong (known as a wrongful conviction). Let’s look at the terrifying example of Annie Dookhan.

Ms. Dookhan was a chemist for the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston. While working in this capacity, she was responsible for testing the drug evidence in Massachusetts’s criminal cases. Over the span of 9 years, Ms. Dookhan handled over 60,000 drug samples. Then, in June 2011, she was caught forging documents related to some important testing. Basically, she was fixing evidence in order to increase her work productivity.

It’s estimated that 21,587 drug cases will be dismissed based on her fraudulent reports.

But after the appeal and release, what civil recourse do these people have? Bringing a civil claim against the individual employee (Dookhan) may not result in adequate compensation for the thousands of people who may have been wrongly convicted and locked up because of her delusive work.

So, is it possible for these victims to sue the state? After all, they employed the police who arrested the victims, the prosecutor who charged them, and the guards that held them. Although this varies state by state, in Florida the answer is: “Yes, the state could be held responsible”. However, this is dependent on certain situations.

Let’s look at the statutes, known collectively as Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act.

Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act

Pursuant to Florida Statute § 961.06, a person who was wrongfully incarcerated can get up to $50,000 per for each year they were incarcerated. They may also recover tuition and fees for up to 120 hours of instruction at any career center, Florida college system institution, or state university. Don’t forget to request any money you paid for fines, penalties, court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses. That’s included too.

Filing a Wrongful Incarceration Claim

Don’t go buying school supplies for your full ride to college yet. After your conviction is vacated, you have 90 days to file a petition with the original sentencing court. If you missed this deadline, you are out of luck. This petition will determine your status as a “wrongfully convicted person,” under §961.03, and allow you to submit an application for compensation.

This application is lengthy and can be complicated. Within two years of the court granting your petition for status determination, you must submit to the Department of Legal Affairs the items required under §961.05.

Keep in mind, there’s a set of strict restrictions on applicants for this compensation, as defined in Florida Statute § 961.04.

You are not eligible if:

  • You’ve been convicted of a violent felony in Florida.
  • You’ve been convicted of a criminal charge in another state, that would constitute a felony (violent or non-violent) in Florida.
  • You’ve been convicted of an additional felony during incarceration (violent or non violent).
  • You were serving a concurrent sentence that would be a felony in Florida.
  • It doesn’t matter if you plead guilty or nolo contendere for any of these. However if your case was Nolle Prosequi you are eligible.

Unfortunately, this process does exclude a large number of potential applicants for compensation under this act. If you are excluded or your application is rejected, your only remaining option is a little known option called a “claim bill.” If you think this sounds easier, you’re wrong. A claim bill is when you have a member of the Florida Congress sponsor a bill for a vote up in Tallahassee. It’s kind of like having a personalized law passed that says the government should divert money from the state budget to compensate you for the wrongful incarceration. It’s an extremely difficult process.

Only nine people have successfully used this procedure since this law was passed in 2008. But that doesn’t mean there is no hope.

The attorneys at the Dolman Law Group don’t shy away from tough cases. Don’t be afraid to call today and get a free consultation of your case. If you’ve been wronged, hurt, or harmed, get the compensation and justice you deserve. Call us 727-451-6900 or visit us at www.dolmanlaw.com.

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