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Why doesn’t New York update its wrongful conviction law?

Despite repeated attempts by several lawmakers, New York’ wrongful conviction compensation statute hasn’t been updated in more than 10 years. In fact, while other states are activity amending their laws to provide more benefits to victims of wrongful convictions, New York hasn’t updated its law since 2007.

For instance, Kansas recently passed a law that provides wrongful-conviction victims with $65,000 for every year they spend wrongfully behind bars, plus addition benefits such as health care, tuition assistance and help finding somewhere to live. Many are now calling this new Kansas law a “model for the nation.” So if Kansas can figure it out, why can’t New York?

What does New York law provide?

Unlike Kansas’s wrongful conviction compensation law, New York’s statute does not give victims a specific amount of money for each year behind bars — or any specific benefit for that matter.

In fact, New York’s wrongful conviction compensation statute — otherwise known as Section 8-b of the New York Claims Act — merely states that a court can award a victim “damages in such sum of money as the court determines will fairly and reasonably compensate him.” But, what a court deems fair and reasonable may be quite different than what the victims considers fair and reasonable, especially since the latter is the one who had to spend time in prison.

However, just because the law hasn’t been amended in over a decade doesn’t mean lawmakers aren’t trying. Indeed, as mentioned above, there have been several attempts to change New York’s wrongful conviction compensation statute, including three pieces of legislation introduced/re-introduced this year alone: Assembly Bill 3894, Assembly Bill 5306 and Senate Bill 7982.

Some of the benefits proposed in these bills for victims of wrongful convictions include:

  • At least one million dollars for each year the victim was behind bars
  • Health care plan paid for by the state
  • Education assistance, including free tuition for the victim and his or her children at a state university or college
  • Compensation for lost wages while the victim was wrongfully in prison
  • Reimbursement for attorney/legal fees incurred when fighting the wrongful conviction
  • No taxes on any damages received by the victim

Unfortunately, given that New York’s legislative session ends next month, there is little time for lawmakers to act on these proposed bills, but we will just have to wait and see. After all, if Kansas can get it done, why can’t New York?

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