Gov. Gavin Newsom signed new legislation into law this week that reforms the compensation process for those who are wrongfully convicted of a crime.
The legislation, Senate Bill 446, seeks to ensure that anyone who is wrongfully convicted is fairly compensated by the state. It was brought forth by Sens. Steven Glazer, D-Contra Costa County, and Josh Becker, D-Menlo Park, and was signed into law on Monday.
According to a news release, the new bill “shifts the burden of proving innocence from the wrongfully convicted person to the attorney general.”
“This bill recognizes that once a person is found innocent in court they should not have to prove innocence a second time in order to receive state compensation they are entitled to based on their years of wrongful incarceration,” Justin Brooks, the director of the California Innocence Project and a professor at California Western School of Law, said in a statement. “Once an innocent person is released from prison they should be compensated as soon as possible and not have to continue battling against the government.”
Under existing law, a person who has been pardoned on the basis of innocence can submit a claim against the state to the California Victim Compensation Board for the erroneous conviction. Existing law then requires the board to approach the legislature with a recommendation for appropriation and schedule a hearing to make a recommendation for the claim.
SB 446 revises this process and now requires the board to make a recommendation for appropriation without a hearing for those wrongfully convicted. In addition, the bill requires the attorney general to establish convincing evidence that a claimant is not entitled to compensation.
The legislation prohibits the attorney general from relying solely on the trial record of the previously convicted person to determine compensation.
“The wrongfully convicted have already lost years of their lives proving their innocence in the Courts,” Jasmin Harris, associate director of Development & Policy at the California Innocence Project, said in a statement. “These individuals deserve a just and comprehensive process to ensure that they are rightfully compensated. We are grateful to Sen. Glazer and Sen. Becker for championing this important issue for innocent people in California.”
The California Innocence Coalition advocated for this policy change.