Monday, April 28, 2008

Illinois: Some National Press for the Problem

This story in today's Washington Post relates the circumstance of Tabitha Pollock , whose conviction has been overturned by the Illinois State Supreme Court:
With a felony record, she cannot become a teacher, as she wants. She cannot collect damages from the Illinois government. On a trip to Australia, where customs officials questioned her when she arrived, she learned that the murder conviction always follows her. To fully clear her name, Pollock -- as well as a dozen or so other former Illinois inmates who have been exonerated -- needs an official pardon, which only the governor can give. She applied in 2002 but has received no word.
A spokesperson for the Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) explains that he is currently flooded with petitions and just doesn't have the time to focus on Pollock's case. Makes sense. That is what happens when you let things go as long as Blagojevich has. Of course, this is also why a federal district court has recently ruled that Illinois is violating the rights of clemency petitioners by doing nothing with their applications for extended periods of time (see summary of the federal ruling here).

The Post article also offers some interesting data on how states compensate exonerated prisoners. Alabama, for example, pays them $50,000 for each year of incarceration. New Jersey pays $40,000 or twice the inmate's previous annual income. Louisiana offers only $15,000, but provides counseling, medical care and job training. In Illinois:
... to regain a certifiably clean record and collect compensation -- a lump payment of $60,150 for five years or less in prison, or $120,300 for six to 14 years -- an exonerated inmate must obtain a "pardon based on innocence" from the governor. A 15-member state review board interviews the petitioners and makes a recommendation, but the governor is not obligated to make a decision.
Of course, the key word in all of that is pardon, at least in a state where your application may sit for 6-7 years, or longer, without any response whatsoever, and you cannot reapply, or update your application along the way (see commentary by Tamara Holder here). Meanwhile, the state legislature is considering legislation which would provide cleared inmates with "certificates" declaring their "innocence" and having the same legal effect as a pardon.

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