TRENTON – Senate President Richard J. Codey and Senator Ellen Karcher today proposed legislation that would substantially increase the damage compensation for anyone found wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. The lawmakers were inspired by the recent story of Byron Halsey, the Plainfield resident who spent two decades in prison, only to have the charges dropped recently after DNA evidence proved his innocence.
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 the Codey/Karcher proposal, individuals would be eligible for up to $50,000 per year or twice the amount of their income prior to incarceration, whichever is greater.
“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.”
“The criminal justice system is far from perfect and unfortunately human error can lead to wrongful convictions,” said Sen. Karcher (D-Mercer and Monmouth). “New technologies like DNA testing are helping us to right those wrongs and protect the innocent. In the meantime, we have an obligation to provide appropriate financial support to exonerated individuals so that they can begin to make up for lost time.”
Halsey is the 205th person nationwide, and the fifth in New Jersey, to be exonerated based on DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic dedicated to rectifying wrongful convictions.
The proposed bill also calls for the compensation amount to be increased every five years in accordance with the Consumer Price Index. The senators plan to introduce the bill at the next Senate session sometime this fall.