Watson Coleman & Johnson Bill to Wrongfully Convicted and Imprisoned Residents Released by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bonnie Watson Coleman and Gordon Johnson to increase the amount of compensation awarded to those who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned and provide for additional services for such persons was released Monday by an Assembly panel.
“Those who have suffered through wrongful imprisonment deserve reasonable and adequate compensation that is up-to-date with current standards,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “We haven’t updated this law in 15 years, so it’s past time we do it to ensure we can help these people who endured a real-life nightmare.”
Under current law, set out in 1997, any person wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime may bring a suit for damages in Superior Court against the Department of the Treasury.
Damages under the statute may be awarded in an amount up to twice the amount of the claimant’s income in the year prior to his incarceration or $20,000 for each year of incarceration, whichever is greater.
This bill would increase the $20,000 per year amount to $50,000 per year and would provide for adjustments to this amount every five years in accordance with changes in the Consumer Price Index.
“This is a reasonable bill to help those who in some cases have lost years of their lives through no fault of their own,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “If someone is wrongfully convicted and sent to jail, then that person should get appropriate compensation and help to start rebuilding their lives.”
In addition, the bill authorizes the court to order other appropriate services for the claimant, at the discretion of the court.
Any such services would be ordered after the probation department conducts an evaluation of the claimant’s family situation, educational history, vocational training, employment history and financial resources, including whether or not the claimant is an enrollee or covered person under a health insurance contract, policy or plan.
Services ordered by the court could include, but would not be limited to, vocational training, tuition assistance, counseling, housing assistance and health insurance coverage as appropriate.
Under the bill, damages would not be subject to state income tax.
The bill provides that if the person also files suit against the state, a political subdivision, or an employee of the State or any political subdivision with respect to the same subject matter, any damages awarded in that suit would be offset by any damages awarded under this law.
The bill also provides that if damages exceed $1 million, the court may order that the award be paid as an annuity with a payout over a maximum period of 20 years.
The court would consider the best interests of the claimant in making such determination.
The bill was released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.