Compensation for citizens who have been wrongly accused and incarcerated of a crime will now be increased from $100 to $140 a day; a welcome piece of news for innocent people like Maurice Caldwell, who spent 21 years locked up for a crime he did not commit.
"There are many people who deserve to spend the rest of their lives behind bars because of their vicious crimes," said Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber). "In cases where an innocent person has been wrongly accused and incarcerated, however, we as a society have the responsibility and moral obligation to acknowledge that our system is not perfect and they deserve compensation to get their lives back in order."
"When exonerees get out of prison, we need places to live, clothes, therapy and a chance to go to school to learn the skills we missed out on. No amount of money can make up for what we went through but this bill provides meaningful compensation that will really help," Maurice Caldwell said.
Caldwell was convicted based on the testimony of a single eyewitness, who initially couldn't identify the shooters at the crime scene. Years following his incarceration, Caldwell appealed to the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) at Santa Clara University School of Law, for help. Lawyers, students and investigators began probing his case and located two witnesses who actually saw the murder and said Mr. Caldwell was not involved in any way, and located the real killer who confessed that he committed the murder. All three say that Caldwell was not involved in any way.
Armed with new evidence and the confession of the real killer, NCIP brought Mr. Caldwell's case back to the courts.
A judge ruled that Caldwell's trial attorney was ineffective for failing to adequately investigate his case.
Authored by a long time public safety advocate - Senator Jim Nielsen - Senate Bill 635 provides increased compensation for those wrongly accused and incarcerated. The current rate was set 15 years ago.
"The wrongfully incarcerated can never get back the time spent in prison that separated them from their loved ones and cut off other opportunities and life experiences," said Senator Mark Leno who jointly authored SB 635. "This bill provides increased compensation to help them rebuild some of what was lost."
Delighted at the Governor's signing, Lucy Salcido Carter, NCIP policy director expressed her gratitude.
"The Northern California Innocence Project is delighted that Governor Brown signed SB 635 into law. The bill acknowledges the harm exonerees have experienced through wrongful conviction and loss of freedom and brings exoneree compensation levels up to account for inflation. We thank Senator Nielsen for his attention to this vital issue and for authoring this important bill."
Mr. Caldwell applied for compensation to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board in 2013. His claim is still pending.