That’s a Wrap on Georgia’s 2022 Legislative Session
Thanks to the generous support of people like you, Georgia Innocence Project has been able to expand significantly over the past two years, even amidst a global pandemic. Along with the work we have always done in the courtroom to correct wrongful convictions, in the past year we have been actively working with allies to drive more practical, meaningful change through policy reform. With so many wrongful convictions in Georgia, more than we are even aware of, tackling the root causes and driving change at the systemic level is crucial to providing justice to Georgians.
Monday was the last day of the Georgia General Assembly’s 2022 session also known as “Sine Die”. We had successes as well as some setbacks as summarized below:
Evidence Preservation Bill Raises Awareness in The House
At the beginning of March, Representative Scott Holcomb introduced HB 1498, our evidence preservation bill, in the House. Though we knew from the start that it was unlikely to pass this session, our hope was to use this bill to raise awareness of the need to address the serious problems surrounding post-conviction evidence preservation and storage in Georgia, paving the way for legislative action next session. HB 1498 would designate evidence custodians at the post-conviction stage, require that DNA evidence be stored in appropriate conditions (where it will not degrade), and create remedies for unlawful evidence destruction. We hope to work with Rep. Holcomb next legislative session to build off this to push for these reforms as well as the creation of a centralized post-conviction evidence storage facility.
The Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act Passes the House, Stalls in Senate
HB 1354, also known as the Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act, passed the Georgia House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support on “Crossover Day” by a margin of 157-11. Unfortunately, the bill did not make it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee after the committee chair refused to allow a vote on the bill.
Senator John Kennedy, told the committee the bill needs more vetting saying, “I’m not advocating for doing nothing, but this is admittedly a very complex matter and maybe how we’re doing it today is not the best way. I don’t know that this is the best way.”
Judiciary Chairman Brian Strickland told Representative Scott Holcomb, the bill’s sponsor, that the panel is willing to work with him in the year ahead after they spend more time reviewing the issue.
As you may know, Georgia is one of only 12 states—a number that decreases every year—that has no law designed to compensate the wrongfully incarcerated. The goal of HB 1354 was to create a statutory process for fairly and uniformly compensating innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted and exonerated.
Innocent exonerees must currently go through a process that was not designed for them (built instead to compensate people harmed by state agencies – such as someone hit by a Dept. of Transportation truck), leading to inefficiency, inconsistency, and unfair outcomes.
HB 1354 would have addressed these problems by setting clear eligibility and compensation criteria for compensation and creating a panel of wrongful conviction experts under Georgia’s existing Claims Advisory Board to evaluate claims and make recommendations to the Chief Justice.
While we are disappointed with this outcome, we are not giving up, and we will be back next session to continue advocating to compensate the wrongfully convicted.
Lawmakers Agree to Compensate Two Exonerees
While our effort to pass a law to create a fair process to compensate all wrongfully convicted Georgians was rejected, the individual resolutions to compensate two exonerees, Kerry Robinson and Dennis Perry, did successfully pass through the House and Senate. With assistance from GIP, Dennis Perry and Kerry Robinson, successfully navigated through Georgia’s current complicated compensation process.
They were required to file a claim before Georgia’s Claims Advisory board – a State administrative body that, to our knowledge, has never recommended compensation for wrongful conviction. Then, they had to find a Representative in the Georgia House willing to sponsor a private compensation resolution on their behalf and lobby the General Assembly to pass their resolution (going through all the steps that a regular bill would).
Dennis Perry’s resolution, HR 593, originally requested $70,000 for each of his 20 years of wrongful imprisonment for a grand total of $1,435,000 in a lump sum. After some debate, the House agreed on $60,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment for a grand total of $1,230,000 as a 20-year annuity and 25% upfront in a lump sum.
Kerry Robinson’s resolution, HR 626, also originally requested $70,000 for each of his nearly 8 years of wrongful imprisonment for a total of $551,000. As in Perry’s request, Robinson’s compensation was lowered to $60,000 a year with a 25% lump sum upfront and a 20-year annuity. Powerful lawmakers have declined repeated requests to reduce the annuity payment window to 10 years in both Kerry’s and Dennis’ cases.
This legislative session was a whirlwind with plenty of ups and downs, but we are grateful to all our supporters and the lawmakers who supported our efforts to make Georgia’s legal system more accurate and equitable.