House Bill 384 — Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act

House Bill 384 — Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act

by
Lindsay Atkinson
February 3, 2020
Lindsay Atkinson
February 3, 2020

Bill description: +1

Rating: HB 384 would establish the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act, to provide a pathway for those wrongfully imprisoned in the state to seek claims.

Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the US Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Examples include restrictions on speech, public assembly, the press, privacy, private property, or firearms. Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the US Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? 

HB 384 upholds the Idaho Constitution by creating the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act. The bill would allow those who have been wrongfully convicted to bring a civil action against the state for claims, if they meet certain requirements. These requirements are that:

  • They were convicted of a felony and imprisoned
  • They did not commit the crime tied to the imprisonment, and were not an accomplice to whoever did commit it
  • They had a conviction reversed or vacated, and there was either no retrial or the person was found not guilty at a retrial (alternatively the person was pardoned on the basis of being innocent)
  • They received a reversal or vacation of conviction due to innocence and not a legal error
  • They did not plead guilty to protect another party from prosecution

The claim has to be filed within a two-year period after the individual has been declared innocent and released. The bill grandfathers in those who have been wrongfully convicted in the state in the past by establishing that their period for claims begins around the time the statute goes into effect.

This claims process addresses the deprivations of life and property for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned in the state.

It addresses the deprivation of life by specifying that the estate of those wrongfully executed can file a claim, in addition to individuals wrongfully imprisoned (but not executed).

(+1)

And, of course, the main goal of this claims process is to address the wrongful deprivation of property, especially in the sense that those wrongfully imprisoned have been deprived of their ability to seek out the life, job, property, relationships and more that they would have otherwise chosen if they had not been imprisoned.

HB 384 establishes that those wrongfully imprisoned can be awarded:

  • $60,000 for each year of imprisonment, which increases to $75,000 if they were imprisoned on death row
  • $25,000 for each year on parole or as a wrongly registered sex offender

These awards are paid out from the Innocence Fund that this bill establishes. The payments may be awarded as a lump sum if ordered through the court. Otherwise, the payments start with an initial payment and are paid yearly, until fully paid out. The award is not based on any time that an offender was concurrently serving another offense.

(+1)

Does it increase government spending (for objectionable purposes) or debt? Conversely, does it decrease government spending or debt? 

It is by no means objectionable for the state to spend money to right the most serious of wrongs: the imprisonment of the innocent. 

HB 384 makes the requirements for the claims process narrow enough that they only capture those wrongfully imprisoned. The bill also establishes clear monetary pay-outs.

Yet, HB 384 says that claimants may be awarded other forms of relief (nonmonetary). This includes reentry services, up to 8 years of state-funded medical insurance, and a public college tuition waiver for up to 120 college credits. Though these claims are all nonmonetary, they will cost state taxpayers. And they will cost an unknowable, unpredictable amount.

(-1)

Analyst’s Note: Amendments made to HB 384 by the Senate on 3/16 greatly reduced the merits of this bill. The amendments were a line by line gut and rewrite of multiple sections of the bill. The major amendment to the bill was removing the provision calling for records to be “expunged and purged from all applicable state and federal systems” when someone is found innocent of their supposed crimes. The old version of this bill truly addressed the wrongful losses of property, liberty and, in some cases, life. While this amended bill is rated a +1, it has much less merit than its first, unaltered form.

It is also important to note that, while the merits of this bill are cemented in the appropriate correction of one of the worst wrongs of government, it may also force those who have done no wrong to pay out for those who have. HB 384 establishes that the state pay out relief from money in the Innocence Fund. This puts the state in a position to pay out for errors that most likely occurred on the city or county level. For instance, the state may be put on the line to pay out relief to someone who was wrongfully convicted as the result of investigative errors that were committed in a local police or sheriff’s department.

However, there is a provision in the bill where, if a wrongfully imprisoned individual receives money through a civil lawsuit against an entity that committed error (like the city or county), that amount would be deducted from their claim with the state. In some cases, this would result in no money being paid out by the state, but it is difficult to predict how many individuals would file a civil lawsuit against the entity that committed the error that lead to their imprisonment (if there is such an entity that can be tied to the mistake) instead of taking a claim offered by the state.

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