Delaware Public Media

Legislation creating wrongful conviction fund clears House committee

Jun 24, 2019

Legislation seeking to create a compensation fund for people the state has wrongfully convicted was voted out of committee last week.

Under State Rep. Sean Lynn’s (D-Dover) bill, wrongly convicted people could get compensated by the state if their conviction is reversed or vacated or they are found not guilty in a new trial.

A person wrongfully convicted would be eligible for $50,000 a year for each year of imprisonment.

Delaware United’s Dustin Thompson said Delaware is one of only 15 states that doesn’t financially compensate people wrongfully convicted.

“These individuals lost everything," he said. "They were treated like criminals all the while pleading their innocence because they were in fact innocent.”

Elmer Daniels served 39 years for a rape he says he never committed. Despite faulty hair evidence, Delaware’s Department of Justice maintains there was still enough evidence to convict him. But it supported his release last year.

Daniels said it’s very hard to try to put his life together now at 57 years old.

“During those 39 years, my friends had families," he said. "Like I said had kids, house, cars, work, careers. And all of you sitting here, made decisions and choices. Some things worked out for you and your life. Some things didn’t. But you all had freedom to try.”

Advocates for the legislation have concerns about some parts of it. If the wrongfully convicted person accepts the award, they’re barred from civil litigation against the state - along with federal civil litigation.

Supporters also want changes to the new evidence requirement and the burden of proof threshold.