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According to this morning's Austin-American Statesman, three men who were exonerated of crimes--including rape--of which they were wrongly convicted, are being denied full reparation payments for wrongful conviction because the State Comptroller's Office argues that because the wrongful convictions were parole violations, parts of their sentences were being served concurrently and thus they are not eligible for the full payments. The story by The Statesman's Chuck Lindell can be found HERE.

More on the story after the fold....

Lindell reports the following in this morning's article:

Before DNA tests proved his innocence, Ronald Taylor spent more than 14 years in prison for a Houston rape he did not commit.

Eligible for $80,000 in state compensation for every year he was wrongfully imprisoned, Taylor expected to restart his life with more than $1.1 million he was owed.

Instead, the state offered $20,000.

According to the state comptroller's office, which pays wrongful conviction claims, a strict reading of state law required Taylor to be paid for only three months of his prison time because of circumstances related to a prior conviction.

The comptroller also slashed payments to other wrongfully convicted Texans, including 20-year prisoner Billy James Smith, who lost more than $133,000 in compensation, and 18-year inmate Gregory Wallis, who lost almost $290,000.

According to the article, Ronald Taylor--recently the focus of an article for the alternative Houston weekly The Houston Press by Randall Patterson which can be found HERE --is suffering from illnesses resulting from his incarceration, has had to give up the landscaping business he started as a result, and was counting on the money in order to "live a quiet life" with his wife.

The crux of the matter is whether parole for prior convictions is the continuation of a prison sentence or, like probation, is "probated" to another authority, such as the parole board. It is this question that has prompted an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court.

The Austin American-Statesman article by Lindell continues:

The Supreme Court decision is likely to turn on how the court interprets parole.

Is parole, as the comptroller and attorney general contend, merely a continuation of a criminal sentence that is served outside of prison?

If so, the state would not have to pay an exonerated inmate who was also on parole for an earlier crime — at least until the other sentence had been discharged, Lionberger said.

But Moore argued that a sentence ends when parole begins and the inmate leaves prison. If so, the sentence isn't reimposed until parole is revoked — which, for Taylor and the other men, happened after they were wrongfully arrested and convicted, he said.

It would be illogical and unfair to penalize inmates for serving a concurrent sentence that would not have been imposed except for the mistaken rape convictions, Moore said.

According to the article, the fate of all three men will hinge on the decision in the Smith case because it was the first appeal to be filed.

So, as it appears to this diarist, there is a catch-22 here: the Comptroller's office is arguing that regardless of the fact that the parole violation resulted from a wrongful arrest and later conviction, the parole violation stands and therefore the men must forfeit the compensation due them. This smacks of the thinking of some members of the U.S. Supreme Court that innocence alone is not a mitigating factor in the righteousness of a guilty verdict if--even innocence is proven--if the process of conviction was legal, it is not necessary to free the wrongly convicted if due process was followed. Link HERE.

The diarist finds these circumstances highly troubling. In fact, finds it interesting that the State of Texas, Harris County and other governmental agencies, as well as the taxpayers and voters of Texas seem more than happy to pay for the incarceration of these men to great expense of the State, but feel it necessary to nickle-and-dime reparations based on wrongful convictions and subsequent incarceration in squalid environments which wrongfully robbed these men of large portions of their lives.

While none of these men may be considered to have been model citizens before their wrongful convictions, to punish them for parole violations and to essentially fine them, based on a wrongful conviction, seems to be highly unjust. It is my hope--but not my expectation--that the Supreme Court of Texas will rule in the right way, and in a way that convinces prosecutors, the Attorney General, and other law enforcement agencies in Texas to consider that the taxpayers must bear the brunt of wrongful conviction. Regardless of the character of those wrongly convicted.

Thoughts and comments appreciated.

Originally posted to commonmass on Sun Nov 28, 2010 at 02:02 PM PST.

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