Bill Description: Senate Bill 1027 establishes the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act to allow for limited restitution for those who are wrongfully convicted in Idaho.
Analyst Note: Senate Bill 1027 shares many similarities with House Bill 384 from 2020, which easily passed both chambers but was subsequently vetoed by the governor.
Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the U.S. 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 U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?
Senate Bill 1027 creates Chapter 35, Title 6, Idaho Code, which "shall be known and may be cited as the 'Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act'."
The bill establishes the conditions, processes, and limits under which an individual who is convicted of a crime that he did not commit may obtain restitution. While this is a positive concept, the process outlined here falls far short of true restorative justice in several ways, some of which are outlined as follows:
First, the claimant who seeks restitution must bring a civil action against the state of Idaho for wrongful conviction. While the bill allows someone who successfully files such action to obtain "reasonable attorney's fees and costs," it makes no provision for a claimant who was rendered destitute by imprisonment for a crime he did not commit.
Another problem is that the claimant is given only two years after his conviction was reversed or vacated and the charges were dismissed to bring a civil action against the state of Idaho for wrongful conviction. This limitation is unnecessary and compounds the problem addressed above.
A more just system would require the state to examine every case in which a conviction is reversed or vacated and charges are dismissed and automatically award restitution to those who meet the conditions for such an award.
Another shortcoming of this bill is that only claimants who have been imprisoned may qualify for restitution, not those who were subjected to the criminal justice system in some other way. While the bill allows for some limited restitution to be awarded to innocent people wrongfully placed on parole or required to register as a sex offender, such individuals must have also been wrongfully imprisoned in order to qualify for any restitution. Any person who has been wrongfully convicted deserves restitution no matter what penalty he may have unjustly suffered.
The compensation authorized by this bill is inadequate. The amount of restitution called for in this bill is $62,000 for each year of imprisonment or $75,000 for imprisonment on death row and $25,000 for each year the person was on parole or required to register as a sex offender. These paltry awards would not even cover many individual’s lost wages, let alone offer sufficient remuneration for the pain, suffering, and indignity of being wrongfully incarcerated.
To add insult to injury, these amounts are reduced by any amount the claimant may have been awarded in a civil suit against the state or a political subdivision of the state related to the wrongful conviction.
This bill also fails to make any effort whatsoever to hold responsible the prosecutors, judges, and other government employees whose lies and malfeasance lead to wrongful convictions.
While this bill is still, on balance, positive due to its taking some small steps toward correcting the monumental injustice of wrongful convictions, it fails to value adequately the lives of those so violated and to make meaningful restitution for the time and freedom so cruelly stolen from them.