Those wrongfully convicted in GA may have easier path toward restitution with new bill

Legislation to overhaul the system used to compensate the wrongfully convicted in Georgia cleared a state Senate subcommittee Wednesday.

House Bill 364, which the Georgia House of Representatives passed early this month, would replace the current requirement that the wrongfully convicted find a legislative sponsor for a compensation resolution and instead turn over compensation decisions to a panel of experts.

“Every person who has been wrongfully convicted has to have a resolution filed and go through the whole gantlet of the legislative process,” state Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, the bill’s chief sponsor, said of the current process for gaining compensation.

“I think it will prevent any potential mistakes, of us getting it wrong, by having a panel of experts. We’re trying to make sure we get it right.”

Holcomb’s bill would create a five-member panel of experts in the criminal justice system, including a judge, retired judge, or retired justice; a district attorney, a criminal defense lawyer; and two attorneys, forensic experts, or law professors with expertise in wrongful convictions.

Georgians who have been exonerated of a crime for which they were wrongfully convicted could submit compensation claims to the panel, which would determine whether compensation is warranted and recommend an amount of compensation.

Holcomb told members of the Senate Appropriations Compensation Subcommittee such a process would prevent political considerations from potentially derailing a compensation award.

“Having your liberty taken away for 10, 15, or 20 years, not being able to be with your loved ones or have the opportunity to invest in yourself … I don’t want it to be subject to the politics we sometimes have here. This puts guardrails in place to make sure we make the right call.”

The original House bill set the range of compensation for the wrongfully convicted at $50,000 to $100,000 for each year of incarceration. The subcommittee approved an amendment Wednesday offered by Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, raising the compensation range to between $60,000 and $120,000.

The bill moves next for consideration by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.