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Wrongful imprisonment bill takes first step in General Assembly

Delaware Public Media

Legislation allowing someone wrongfully convicted to receive compensation from the state is released from the House Judiciary Committee.

The Delaware Wrongful Imprisonment Act will allow a person wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in a Delaware correctional facility for a crime they did not commit to file for compensation in Superior Court.

They have to make that complaint within three years after the conviction is reversed or vacated.

If the court finds the plaintiff was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, they would receive $50,000 for each year from the date of imprisonment to release.

Those incarcerated less than a year the amount would be prorated to 1/365 of $50,000 for every day incarcerated. The plaintiff in any case may be reimbursed for reasonable attorney fees paid not to exceed 10% of the total amount awarded or $50,000 whichever is less plus expenses.

Emeka Igwe is the attorney for Elmer Daniels - who was wrongfully imprisoned for 39 years for a rape conviction and exonerated in 2018.

"Just because it's a miscarriage of justice doesn't mean that the United States is going to do anything about this, and unfortunately they refused to compensate Mr. Daniels based upon sovereign immunity and the judge is obligated to follow the law and ended up dismissing,” said Igwe. “That's too often the case for people with people who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated."

Igwe is the attorney for Elmer Daniels who was wrongfully imprisoned for 39 years. He says his client deserves to be compensated.

"Isn't it only right that in the name of the state he should be compensated for his wrongful conviction, and this bill goes beyond Mr. Daniels. This is not about just Mr. Daniels, this is for anyone who has been wrongfully convicted and incarcerated," said Igwe.

If passed the act would create the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Fund, administered by the Office of the State Treasurer.

In the past 32 years, there have been three exonerations in Delaware - all since 2015.

If they each petition the court and are awarded compensation, the estimated maximum cost would be just over $2.5 million.

Joe brings over 20 years of experience in news and radio to Delaware Public Media and the All Things Considered host position. He joined DPM in November 2019 as a reporter and fill-in ATC host after six years as a reporter and anchor at commercial radio stations in New Castle and Sussex Counties.