By Rachel La Corte Associated Press
OLYMPIA — The Legislature has approved a measure that allows people who were wrongfully convicted to receive a minimum of $50,000 a year for each year they were behind bars.
The House on Monday unanimously concurred with changes made by the Senate last week when that chamber unanimously passed the bill. It now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it into law, and Washington will join 27 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government with similar laws on the books.
Rep. Tina Orwall, a Democrat from Normandy Park who sponsored the bill, cited four exonerated men who all served prison time, two of whom testified before lawmakers this year.
“We can’t give them 15 or 17 years back, we can provide them with compensation to help rebuild their lives,” she said.
The measure allows people who were wrongfully convicted to file a claim in superior court for damages against the state. Someone would have to show their conviction was reversed or vacated based on significant evidence of actual innocence. Once a judge or jury determines the claim is valid, the court can award damages.
Currently, the only option someone has is to sue, but they are required to sue on some basis other than the fact that they were wrongfully convicted, such as police or prosecutorial misconduct.
Under the bill, compensation would be similar to the amounts paid by the federal government — a wrongly convicted person would receive $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, including time spent awaiting trial. An additional $50,000 would be awarded for each year on death row. A person would receive $25,000 for each year on parole, community custody, or as a registered sex offender.
The state also would pay all child support owed while the claimant was in custody, and reimburse all court and attorneys’ fees up to $75,000. In addition, in-state college tuition waivers would be provided for the claimant and the claimant’s children and/or step-children.
“It’s a question of justice,” said Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie. “It’s a small measure, and it’s the right thing to do.”