Senate Judiciary Panel Gives the Bill the Green Light
TRENTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved bill S2205 sponsored by Senate President Richard J. Codey, which would substantially increase the damage compensation for anyone found wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. The bill was originally inspired by the story of Byron Halsey, the Plainfield resident who spent two decades in prison, only to have the charges dropped in 2007 after DNA evidence proved his innocence.
“There is no way to fully compensate someone for the loss of years from their life,” said Sen. Codey (D-Essex). “In cases like Mr. Halsey’s, the world and the skills set needed have changed drastically in the last 20 years. The least we can do is provide a person with a greater cushion to acclimate to life outside of prison. This is just one small way to right a gross wrong.”
At the time, Halsey was the 205th person nationwide to be exonerated based on DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic dedicated to rectifying wrongful convictions. Today, 245 wrongfully imprisoned people have been exonerated nationwide, including five in New Jersey.
Current state statute allows individuals who are wrongfully convicted and imprisoned to receive damages of either twice the amount of the person’s income in the year prior to incarceration or $20,000 per year, whichever is greater. Under Sen. Codey’s bill, individuals would be eligible for up to $50,000 per year or twice the amount of their income prior to incarceration, whichever is greater.
The bill also calls for the compensation amount to be increased every five years in accordance with the Consumer Price Index. If the amount of damages awarded exceeds $1 million, the court would be able to order the award be paid as an annuity with a payout over a maximum period of 20 years. Any damages awarded would not be subject to treatment as gross income to the claimant for State tax purposes.
The bill would also provide courts with the discretion to order other services deemed necessary to help the claimant acclimate to life outside of prison, including: vocational training, tuition assistance, counseling, housing assistance and health insurance coverage.
The bill now heads to the full Senate for approval.
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