Inslee signs wrongful conviction compensation law

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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 testified in Olympia three years 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 — A measure to compensate people who have been wrongfully convicted in Washington state was signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

The measure takes effect in late July, and Washington joins 27 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government with similar laws on the books.

"This was a step forward for justice," Inslee said after the bill signing ceremony. "We can't return people their lost years, but we can take a step that gives them a measure of respect and dignity."

The new law 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.

Compensation is to 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 will be provided for the claimant and the claimant's children and/or step-children.

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.

Joining Inslee at the bill signing was Alan Northrop, who was convicted of rape in 1993 and was cleared by DNA evidence after serving 17 years in prison. Northrop has testified before several legislative committees this year in support of the bill that could result in compensation to him of at least $850,000 for his years behind bars.

Northrop, a former Clark County resident, said he was "overwhelmed."

"It's just a big relief," he said. "It's awesome."

Rep. Tina Orwall, a Democrat from Normandy Park who sponsored the bill, said that the new law shows that "the government does stand up for people when a mistake has been made."