Senate unanimously passes Wrongful Conviction Act
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BOISE — The Idaho Senate unanimously passed the Wrongful Conviction Act on Wednesday.
With a 32-0 vote, the Senate approved a bill to provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, and championed by exoneree Christopher Tapp.
Tapp was convicted for the rape and murder of Angie Dodge in 1998 in Idaho Falls. He was exonerated in July 2019. See previous stories on the Dodge case here.
“I’m just really excited about it, really happy we got it through,” Ricks told EastIdahoNews.com. “It’s been a lot of work and a lot of effort from a lot of folks to get the language right. We’re just really thrilled and very happy about it.”
The bill would compensate a wrongfully convicted individual with $60,000 for every year spent in prison and $75,000 per year on death row. The exoneree would be given that money in yearly $85,000 installments, though a judge could decide to give it all in one lump sum.
“People who have been wrongly convicted have been robbed of years of their lives, and once they have been fully exonerated, they are left to pick up the pieces of their lives on their own,” Ricks said in a news release from the Idaho Innocence Project. “When that happens, we as a state, as a society and as citizens have an obligation to make it right. This bill is a big step forward in the right direction.”
Ricks worked with the Idaho Innocence Project out of Boise State University as well as others like Tapp to craft the bill.
“I’m grateful to the Senate for voting to pass this bill and for moving us one step closer to being able to help those wrongfully convicted as they restart their lives,” Tapp said in a news release. “I look forward to seeing compensation for Idahoan exonerees become a reality so that other innocent people do not have to struggle like I did.”
Idaho is one of 15 states that does not have a compensation statute for exonerees. Among the other 35 states that do, the average sum paid to a wrongfully convicted individual per year they spent in prison is $68,000.
“Without a state compensation law, wrongfully-convicted Idahoans have no recourse but to file civil lawsuits that often involve years of litigation at great expense to them and the taxpayers,” co-director of the Idaho Innocence Project Greg Hampikian said in a news release. “A law providing a fixed amount of money per year of wrongful conviction is a sensible approach to help exonerees try to restart a productive life.”
Ricks said he hopes Gov. Brad Little will sign the bill either today or tomorrow, though there may not be a signing ceremony due to coronavirus precautions.