Committee approves wrongful conviction compensation bill

January 18, 2024 | 12:12 am

Updated January 18, 2024 | 12:16 am

House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Middletown, testifies on House Bill 178 before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The bill would allow wrongfully convicted Kentuckians the ability to seek compensation. | Photo by KY LRC

Kentuckians who were wrongfully convicted of a crime may soon be eligible to receive monetary compensation from the state.

House Bill 178 received unanimous approval from the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Middletown, is the primary sponsor of the legislation.

Financial compensation under HB 178 would be limited to individuals whose charges were reversed or vacated, who were found not guilty on retrial, or who were issued a full pardon by the governor.

“These people have to prove under this bill actual innocence to get any, any recovery,” Nemes said.

HB 178 would grant $65,000 in damages for each year a claimant was falsely imprisoned. If that person was on death row, the damages would increase to $75,000 per year of imprisonment. Damages of $25,000 would also be awarded for each year a claimant spent on parole, in post-incarceration supervision, or on the sex offender registry, whichever is greater.

Claimants would also be entitled to attorney’s fees compensation and restitution reimbursement, among other compensation if it applies, such as housing assistance.

Suzanne Hopf, supervisor of the Kentucky Innocence Project, testified in favor of the legislation alongside a few exonerees.

“Our exonerees face a tremendous amount of problems when they reenter society, and this kind of bill would allow them to get that toehold back,” Hopf said. “It wouldn’t completely make up for all the years that they’ve lost, but would at least put them in a situation where they can provide transportation for themselves. They can get an education, and they can also provide housing.”

Advocate and exoneree Johnetta Carr was wrongfully convicted in 2008. She spent 4 years incarcerated and more than 8 years on parole. Carr said she supports HB 178.

“Today we have a chance to right the wrongs of history and start a new thing in Kentucky to compensate people that’s been wrongfully convicted,” Carr said. “No amount of money will make up for the 214 years collectively exonerees in Kentucky spent innocently behind bars, but I do believe it is a step in the right direction.”

Committee chair Rep. Daniel Elliott, R-Danville, is a co-sponsor of HB 178.

“I want to say I support this too,” he said.

Rep. Lindsey Burke, D-Lexington, said she also supports the bill.

“It’s about time that we get around to taking care of the people that we have wrongfully convicted,” she said.

Burke asked Nemes if he would support a floor amendment that would require the Administrative Office of the Courts to gather information on exonerees and report the findings to the Legislative Oversight and Investigations Committee. Nemes said he would. 

HB 178 will now go before the full House for consideration. 

Information from the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.

January 18, 2024 | 12:12 am

Share this Article

Other articles you may like