A bill seeking to make it easier for more people wrongfully convicted of a crime to receive compensation is now heading to Governor Rick Scott for approval. It would make changes to a Florida law that currently denies compensation for those with a prior felony record.
Just a few months after Governor Rick Scott approved a claims bill for William Dillon to receive compensation for his wrongful incarceration, Dillon sang the National Anthem at a major league baseball game.
But, decades earlier, the now free man—who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit—was singing a different tune.
While serving his life sentence, Dillon wrote “Black Robes and Lawyers” song in his prison cell in the 1980s on a roll of toilet paper. Beaten, stabbed, and raped, he calls it the “most horrible time” in his life.
Part of the Lyrics: “Black Robes and lawyers, Lady Justice lost this one. I was taken by the laws of justice, cast away as a stone, left to rot in a dungeon, for a murder of a man I didn’t know.”
It was only through DNA testing, that he was finally released in November of 2008.
And, later that same day, Dillon couldn’t help but happily strum his guitar and sing for his family.
Still, even after his release from prison, Dillon could not be compensated. That is, until he went through the claims bill process to receive $1.35 million in 2012 for his wrongful incarceration.
Normally, he would have to applied for compensation under the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act. But, Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) says there’s a catch.
“If the person has been convicted of any felony of any kind, then that individual is precluded from being able to receive compensation under our current law,” he said. “This is called the ‘Clean Hands Provision.’ Someone like William Dillon imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, he cannot seek compensation because he had a past conviction for a drug possession.”
That’s why Bradley says under the current statute, only four people have received compensation, and he wants to change that.
Bradley had wanted to do away with the “clean hands provision” altogether, but his Senate proposal did not match the House bill—which still included exceptions for people with certain felony records.
“I’ve been in negotiations with our friends in the House, and we’ve come to an agreement that we will modify the bill, so that if you’ve committed a violent felony or if you’re a multiple felon, in that case, you would still be precluded from receiving compensation,” he added. “But, all those people who perhaps had a possession of drugs in the past, or some other, I think it’s unjust that they would not receive the compensation that they deserve for spending time in prison for something they didn’t do. They would now be able to receive compensation.”
And, House sponsor, Rep. Bobby DuBose (D-Fort Lauderdale) sees the measure as a good first step.
“Although, it does not remove the ‘Clean Hands provision’, it is definitely a step in the right direction, and I think this is a great moment for the state of Florida,” he said.
Both DuBose and Bradley also thanked former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner for starting this journey, after she’d filed it for years to no avail.
And, because both bills have unanimously passed the House and Senate, the measure now heads to Governor Rick Scott.
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