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Pennsylvania Considers Compensation for Prisoners Exonerated in Sex and Violent Crimes Cases

In August 2005, Thomas Doswell was released from prison after serving nearly 20 years for the rape of a 48-year-old woman at a Pittsburgh hospital. A DNA test on semen taken from the victim exonerated him after two decades behind bars. He was denied bail four times because he would not take responsibility for the crime. Among his years of lost freedom, his biggest regrets were not raising his two sons and missing his father’s funeral.

Advances in DNA technology are creating a lot of cases like Doswell’s, and Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Stewart Greenleaf believes justice requires these people to be compensated. Proposed Pennsylvania legislation would provide $50,000 per year served. In the absence of state remedies, exonerees may file federal civil right actions and recover millions. Doswell received $3.8 million from the city of Pittsburgh. But money does not begin to make whole a person who has been wrongfully denied freedom, sometimes for decades.

According to the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing, statutes providing for compensation are in effect in 29 states and Washington, D.C. That leaves 21 states with nothing in place. And even with compensation legislation, money alone does not fulfill society’s moral obligation to help these people recover from years in prison and rebuild their lives. The Innocence Project recommends re-entry funds, access to job training, and educational, health and legal services after a prisoner’s release.

David Jay Glassman provides experienced and compassionate criminal defense representation. Call for an appointment.