Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com
by Chloe Clifford, Staff Writer
Individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and proven to be innocent through post-conviction DNA testing spend, on average, over 14 years incarcerated. For many who are wrongfully convicted, their nightmare does not end when they are proven innocent and released from prison. Unlike those who are released from prison on parole, those who have been wrongfully convicted are no longer considered wards of Pennsylvania and are given little to no assistance upon release. This leaves them trying to restart their lives with no money, no access to health services, insurance, housing, or transportation, and a criminal record which makes it difficult to obtain meaningful employment.
These hardships are a large part of the reason why many states have chosen to enact compensation statutes for those who are wrongfully convicted. Currently 38 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have enacted compensation statutes. Pennsylvania is one of the twelve remaining states that does not currently have any compensation statutes or laws.
However, this may not be true for much longer as there is a bill introduced in Pennsylvania which would create a compensation plan for those who are wrongfully convicted in the Commonwealth. HB 2794 is sponsored by Rep. Frank Ryan and Rep. Regina G. Young and was referred to the Committee on Judiciary on September 1, 2022.
Those who have been wrongfully convicted and are seeking relief must show five elements by a preponderance of the evidence. First, they must show they were convicted of a felony. Then they must also show they were sentenced to incarceration based on the conviction and that they have served all or part of the sentence. Next, they must prove beyond a preponderance of evidence that either they did not commit the crime that resulted in the conviction or there was no crime committed. They must also show that they received either a pardon, the charges were dismissed following reversal, or that they were acquitted upon retrial after the conviction was reversed or overturned. Finally, they must show they were not convicted of any lesser included offense arising from the same transaction as the crime for which they were originally convicted.
If an individual’s petition is granted, they will then be awarded compensation based on the number of years they spent incarcerated due to their wrongful conviction. There are three main monetary guidelines for compensation. The bill allows for individuals to receive: $100,000 for each year of imprisonment or involuntary treatment while awaiting a death sentence, $75,000 for each year of imprisonment or involuntary treatment for any other sentence and $50,000 for each year on parole or probation. The potential payment would be prorated for any partial years served.
In addition to the specific monetary allotments per year, there are also provisions allowing for individuals to receive reasonable attorney fees/costs, reimbursement of unreimbursed restitution paid, compensation for unpaid child support payments owed including interests owed during time served, and compensation for any reasonable reintegrative services and mental/physical health care costs. 
The award would be paid in one lump sum that would not be subject to Pennsylvania taxes. There would be a six-year statute of limitations for an individual to apply for the payment from the time that they were released from incarceration, involuntary treatment, or reversal of a conviction, whichever is the latest date.
The Bill is currently remains in the Committee on Judiciary and has not yet been introduced for a full vote.
Those who are wrongfully convicted do not only lose years of their freedom—they also miss birthdays, holidays, and important life events. Additionally, they are removed from an everchanging world, which can make it difficult for them to restart their lives after being released. It is important for states to recognize these hardships and to properly compensate those individuals for what they have lost.