How much is a year of freedom worth?
That's a key question that Colorado lawmakers wrestled with in crafting a bill intended to compensate those wrongfully convicted and incarcerated in Colorado.
The measure sets the price at $70,000 per year. And it would create a tight screening process intended to ensure only the truly innocent could receive state money.
We recognize that putting a price tag on something as priceless as freedom is fraught with peril, but we think state lawmakers did their homework on House Bill 1230 and hope the General Assembly passes it.
The issue of compensating the wrongly incarcerated has come to light with the exoneration of Robert Dewey, a man imprisoned for 16 years for a murder he did not commit.
Released a year ago after DNA evidence proved his innocence, Dewey was a man with nothing. No money. No job. The world had moved on without him.
Those who worked to prove Dewey's innocence, including prosecutors, did their part in honoring justice. Now it's time for the state to step up and provide Dewey, and anyone else similarly situated, a chance to build a life.
Along with $70,000 a year for each year wrongfully behind bars, the bill would provide an additional $50,000 for each year on death row and $25,000 for each year of probation. It would afford access to health care and tuition waivers.
The bill was the product of collaboration between prosecutors, defense attorneys and others with deep knowledge of the criminal justice system. It sets reasonable screens and standards of proof that must be met before compensation is awarded by the courts.
The idea is to ensure only the innocent are paid, not those whose convictions were thrown out because, for instance, a search warrant was improperly obtained.
And if someone wrongfully imprisoned wins a civil judgment from the state, that amount would be deducted from any compensation via this measure. No double-dipping, in essence.
The criminal justice system is set up to get it right the first time, and mostly it does. But when it doesn't, there should be a way to help those who are grievously wronged.
The Denver Post, March 26