Senate Passes Comprehensive Exoneree Reform Plan

(Austin, Texas)—The Senate today approved HB 417, legislation by Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) which will enact comprehensive exoneree reforms, including health care to the wrongfully convicted, standards for attorneys fees, and clears bureaucratic hurdles in order to receive the compensation he deserves.

“HB 417 is comprehensive reform to ensure those wrongfully convicted Texans receive the justice they deserve,” said Ellis. “It ensures those who have had their lives thrown asunder by the state can get the health care they need, tightens standards for those representing exonerees, and finally provides justice to Anthony Graves who has been denied justice because of bureaucratic hurdles and red tape.”

“This legislation is the perfect complement to the exoneree compensation legislation we passed last session,” said Anchia. “It is only fitting that the state of Texas, which has taken so much from these individuals, now provides them with protection from those who would take advantage of them, and also provides them with access to affordable health care. ”

The legislation culminates months of discussion and represents an agreement between the Governor’s Office, Attorney General, Comptroller, and innocence project representatives.

HB 417 gives exonerees access to health insurance through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The exoneree would be required to pay for their coverage and an exoneree’s annuity payments may be reduced to pay for health benefit plan coverage. It also requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide to each wrongfully convicted person information on how to obtain compensation for their wrongful imprisonment and a list of contacts for non-profits that assist wrongfully incarcerated persons file compensation claims.

The legislation also requires attorneys to only charge a fee that “is based on a reasonable hourly rate.” It requires the attorney to disclose to the claimant what the hourly rate will be. And it prohibits an attorney from collecting a fee prior to a final determination is made by the Comptroller on whether or not a person is eligible for compensation.

Finally, HB 417 modifies the current compensation statute so that individuals like Anthony Graves, who was recently denied compensation due to a technical error in his dismissal order, can get compensation in the future. It amends the Civil Practice and Remedies Code to say that a person is eligible for compensation for being wrongfully convicted if they have been “granted relief in accordance with a writ of habeas corpus and an affidavit from the prosecutor stating the dismissal was based on actual innocence. Mr. Graves was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for 18 years, 12 of which were on death row, for multiple murders he did not commit. His case was recently the subject of an episode of 48 Hours. Governor Perry has called Anthony Graves’ case a “great miscarriage of justice” and that he would support efforts to “get this individual the appropriate reimbursement for years that he has spent incarcerated for something that he did not do.”

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