Wash. Senate OKs compensation for wrongful convictions

Bill now heads back to the House

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Former Clark County man championed bill

Alan Northrop is a former Clark County man who went to prison when his son was 2. By the time Northrop was finally declared innocent and released, his son was 19.

Northrop told state senators in Olympia in late March about the life impacts of being wrongfully convicted of rape in 1993. He was in Olympia for the third year in a row, asking lawmakers to allow state compensation for innocent people who are wrongfully convicted.

The bill was prompted by the case of Northrop and Larry Davis, Northrop’s co-defendant, who also spent 17 years in prison and was later cleared. The victim in the case had mistakenly identified them as her attackers, and DNA evidence examined years later proved their innocence.

The case involved a housekeeper who was attacked while cleaning a La Center home on Jan. 11, 1993.

Northrop was freed from prison April 21, 2010, by former Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard.

OLYMPIA — The state Senate on Monday approved a measure that allows people who were wrongfully convicted to seek compensation from the state for the years they were imprisoned.

The measure passed unanimously and now heads back to the House for a concurrence vote. The House approved the measure last month, but because the Senate amended the bill in committee, the House will have to approve the changes, which include allowing for claimants to receive a structured settlement instead of a lump sum.

“We have a lot of significant legislation, but this is one of the more significant ones,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, before the vote. “This is something that I think is worthy.”

The measure allows people who were wrongfully convicted to file a claim in superior court for damages against the state. Someone would have to show their conviction was reversed or vacated based on significant evidence of actual innocence. Once a judge or jury determines the claim is valid, the court can award damages.

Currently, the only option someone has is to sue, but they are required to sue on some basis other than the fact that they were wrongfully convicted, such as police or prosecutorial misconduct.

Under the bill, compensation would be similar to the amounts paid by the federal government — a wrongly convicted person would receive $50,000 for each year of imprisonment, including time spent awaiting trial. An additional $50,000 would be awarded for each year on death row. A person would receive $25,000 for each year on parole, community custody, or as a registered sex offender.

The state also would pay all child support owed while the claimant was in custody, and reimburse all court and attorneys’ fees up to $75,000. In addition, in-state college tuition waivers would be provided for the claimant and the claimant’s children and/or stepchildren.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, cited the case of a former Clark County man, Alan Northrop, who was convicted of rape in 1993 and was cleared by DNA evidence after serving 17 years in prison. Northrup has testified before several legislative committees this year, and has said that the hardest part of his time behind bars was not being able to watch his children grow up.

“I don’t know that this compensation is going to make up for that kind of loss,” Hargrove said. “This truly is a fairness issue.”

If passed, Washington would join 27 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government with similar laws on the books.