31 Days, 31 Ways: Exonerated Texans Receive Compensation
DAY 3 of our month-long series on the effects of new state laws and budget cuts: In light of the case of Anthony Graves, the terms for compensating wrongfully imprisoned individuals have been more clearly defined.
Throughout the month of August, The Texas Tribune will feature 31 ways Texans' lives will change come Sept. 1, the date most bills passed by the Legislature — including the dramatically reduced budget — take effect. Check out our story calendar here.
Day 3: In light of the case of Anthony Graves, the terms for compensating wrongfully imprisoned individuals have been more clearly defined.
Anthony Graves re-entered society in October 201o, after spending 18 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Under the 2009 Timothy Cole Compensation Act, the state owed Graves more than $1 million for the time he'd lost in prison. But Texas Comptroller Susan Combs denied Graves' initial request for that money, citing insufficient paperwork. Graves sued the state to officially clear his name and force the state to pay him.
The Tribune's Brandi Grissom interviewed Graves earlier this year.
During the 2011 session, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, successfully sponsored HB 417.The law took effect at the end of the session, and in June, Combs handed Graves a check for $1.4 million. The new law clarifies the guidelines in the Timothy Cole Compensation Act under which exonerees can obtain financial compensation. Under that 2009 law, inmates who are freed from jail after being found innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted are entitled to $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, plus a lifetime annuity.
To be eligible for compensation under the new law, individuals must have served a partial or full sentence in prison. Court documents and state attorneys would have to say that they believe the defendant is innocent of the crime for which he or she was convicted. The bill was designed to weed out weaker claims while helping individuals like Graves who have a clear-cut case.
The measure also makes wrongfully imprisoned people eligible to receive the same health benefits given to employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for a period equal to the time they spent in prison. Their families, however, would not qualify for coverage, and the individuals would still have to pay a monthly contribution.
The new law also cracks down on attorney fees. Lawyers are now required to charge their clients a "reasonable hourly rate," to report their receipts to the comptroller's office, and to collect fees after the state determines whether the claimant is eligible for compensation.
As of June 30, Combs reported that Texas had paid more than $41 million to about 70 wrongfully imprisoned individuals.
Resources for wrongfully convicted Texans seeking compensation:
The Innocence Project of Texas
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Brandi Grissom contributed to this article.
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