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Are changes coming to New York's wrongful conviction recovery statute?

Earlier this week, we told you about Section 8-b of the New York Court of Claims Act, which is the provision that permits those who have been wrongfully convicted, imprisoned and subsequently exonerated to file a claim against the state for damages.

For many exonerees, this provision provides the means necessary to move on with their lives. However, several lawmakers are now proposing changes to this particular law -- changes that may actually benefit victims of wrongful convictions.

What changes are lawmakers proposing?

While several bills have already been introduced this year that seek to change Section 8-b, two are particularly noteworthy: Assembly Bill 5306 and Assembly Bill 3894.

Most importantly, both of these bills seek to help wrongful conviction victims rebuild their lives after their release from prison. In fact, a New York legislative Memo for AB 5306 says quite clearly:

People who are wrongfully convicted often spend decades in prison and emerge with no money and few job skills, have not worked long enough to receive social security benefits, and have little or no financial support from family or friends. They may need extensive therapy, have medical issues or simply be too old to participate significantly in the work force. It is imperative that the State compensate these individuals for the time they have been wrongfully incarcerated and give them the ability to make a fresh start in the years remaining to them.

In accordance with this goal, AB 5306 will, if passed, entitle every wrongful conviction victim to damages of at least one million dollars for each year behind bars, plus any other reasonable damages, including, but not limited to:

  • Compensation for lost wages
  • Reimbursement for legal fees
  • Medical expenses, including therapy costs
  • Enrollment in a health benefit plan, which the state will pay for
  • Education costs, including free tuition for both the victim and his or her children when attending a state college or university

In addition, the victim would not have to pay any state or local taxes on any damages he or she receives.

Similarly, AB 3894 would provide many of the same damages as AB 5306, including enrollment in a health benefit plan, tuition reimbursement, etc. --although it does not contain the one million dollars per year minimum damage award.

Another difference between these two bills is that AB 3894 expressly states that it does not prevent victims of wrongful convictions from pursuing additional civil lawsuits against state agencies or individual employees "for any reason, including in connection with the wrongful conviction."

While it is still far too early to know if either of these bills will become law, it is nevertheless good to see that several lawmakers at least recognize the difficulties faced by those wrongfully convicted of criminal offenses.

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