Compensation for wrongful convictions signed into law

Compensation for wrongful convictions signed into law
In this March 27, 2013 photo, Alan Northrop, right, his girlfriend Shawna Smith, center, and Northrop's son, Alan Northrop, left, walk away from the Legislative Building at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The elder Northrop was exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 17 years in prison for rape, and was in Olympia to testify before lawmakers in support of a bill that would compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Buoyed by the testimony of a wrongfully convicted man from Clark County, a measure to compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The measure takes effect in late July, and Washington joins 27 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government with similar laws on the books.

"This was a step forward for justice," Inslee said after the bill signing ceremony. "We can't return people their lost years, but we can take a step that gives them a measure of respect and dignity."

The new law allows people who were wrongfully convicted to file a claim in superior court for damages against the state. Someone would have to show their conviction was reversed or vacated based on significant evidence of actual innocence. Once a judge or jury determines the claim is valid, the court can award damages.

Joining Inslee at the bill signing was Alan Northrop, who was convicted in Clark County of rape in  1993 and was cleared by DNA evidence after serving 17 years in prison.

Northrop, who was accused of raping a housekeeper in La Center, was freed from prison in 2010.

Northrop has testified before several legislative committees this year in support of the bill that could result in compensation to him of at least $850,000 for his years behind bars.

Northrop said he was "overwhelmed."

"It's just a big relief," he said. "It's awesome."

Compensation is to be similar to the amounts paid by the federal government — a wrongly convicted person would receive $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, including time spent awaiting trial. An additional $50,000 would be awarded for each year on death row. A person would receive $25,000 for each year on parole, community custody, or as a registered sex offender.

The state also would pay all child support owed while the claimant was in custody, and reimburse all court and attorneys' fees up to $75,000. In addition, in-state college tuition waivers will be provided for the claimant and the claimant's children and/or step-children.

Currently, the only option someone has is to sue, but they are required to sue on some basis other than the fact that they were wrongfully convicted, such as police or prosecutorial misconduct.

Rep. Tina Orwall, a Democrat from Normandy Park who sponsored the bill, said that the new law shows that "the government does stand up for people when a mistake has been made."