Here’s Why Some Exonerees are Compensated and Others Aren’t

It depends on if there is a “judicial finding of actual innocence.”  

By Hady MawajdehApril 13, 2016 11:00 am| ,

In August 1992, Dallas Police received a call from a witness who reported seeing a rape. When officers arrived, they found two men, a woman and two young children sleeping on the sidewalk. They interviewed those people, and the woman claimed that the men sexually assaulted her. That eventually led to both men going to prison.

But in 2001, the State of Texas began using post-conviction DNA testing in an attempt to determine whether folks behind bars in Texas indeed committed the crimes for which they were doing time. DNA evidence can’t prove something did or did not happen. But what it can do is support or undercut other evidence – evidence that can cause an innocent person to be convicted of a crime they did not commit. In this case, DNA evidence indicated that neither man actually committed the rape.

The highest criminal court in the state has granted one of those men, Darryl Adams, a new trial. But the Dallas County District Attorney’s office must decide whether to try Adams again or dismiss the case in one of two ways – one would exonerate him and ensure he’s paid for the time he wrongfully served, the other would set him free but wouldn’t declare him innocent.

How that works and why that matters is important to Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. He says that Texas has something called “judicial finding of actual innocence,” which is how one gets compensation.

“What the court of criminal appeals has said is that if there is new evidence in a case that proves by clear and convincing evidence that you in fact are innocent,” he says, “not that you just had an unfair trial, not that you’re probably innocent, … (but are) actually innocent.”

Ware says he hopes the city won’t be influenced to not pursue that route because of the financial liability, because the money comes from state, rather than local, funds.

“You like to think that the government will do the right thing, and not take those sort of extraneous considerations into consideration,” Ware says, “That was an important consideration when we got the compensation statute passed in 2009. The municipalities actually got on board with it because they were not the ones that had to pay the money.”