ASSEMBLY, No. 2910

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

214th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JUNE 14, 2010

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblyman  ALBERT COUTINHO

District 29 (Essex and Union)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblyman O'Scanlon

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Increases compensation for persons wrongfully imprisoned.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act concerning compensation for wrongful imprisonment, amending and supplementing P.L.1997, c.227 and amending P.L.1967, c.43.

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    Section 1 of P.L.1997, c.227 (C.52:4C-1) is amended to read as follows:

     1.    The Legislature finds and declares that innocent persons who have been convicted of crimes and subsequently imprisoned have been frustrated in seeking legal redress and that such persons should have an available avenue of redress [over and above the existing tort remedies] to seek compensation for damages.  The Legislature intends by enactment of the provisions of this act that those innocent persons who can demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that they were mistakenly convicted and imprisoned be able to recover damages against the State.

     In light of the substantial burden of proof that must be carried by such persons, it is the intent of the Legislature that the court, in exercising its discretion as permitted by law regarding the weight and admissibility of evidence submitted pursuant to this section, may, in the interest of justice, give due consideration to difficulties of proof caused by the passage of time, the death or unavailability of witnesses, the destruction of evidence or other factors not caused by such persons or those acting on their behalf.

(cf: P.L.1997, c.227, s.1)

 

     2.    Section 2 of P.L.1997, c.227 (C.52:4C-2) is amended to read as follows:

     2.    a.  Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, any person convicted and subsequently imprisoned for one or more crimes which he did not commit may, under the conditions hereinafter provided, bring a suit for damages in Superior Court against the Department of the Treasury.

     b.    The acceptance of an award of damages pursuant to any such suit shall constitute a complete release of any claim and a complete bar to any action against the State or any political subdivision thereof or against any employee of the State or any political subdivision thereof with respect to the same subject matter.

(cf: P.L.1997, c.227, s.2)

 

     3.    Section 3 of P.L.1997, c.227 (C.52:4C-3) is amended to read as follows:

     3.    The person (hereinafter titled, "the claimant") shall establish the following by clear and convincing evidence:

     a.     That he was convicted of a crime and subsequently sentenced to a term of imprisonment, served all or any part of his sentence; and

     b.    He did not commit the crime for which he was convicted; and

     c.     He did not by his own conduct cause or bring about his conviction.  Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, the court may find that a confession or admission later found to be false, or a plea of guilty to a crime that the claimant did not commit, does not constitute “causing or bringing about his conviction” pursuant to this subsection.

(cf: P.L.1997, c.227, s.3)

 

     4.    Section 5 of P.L.1997, c.227 (C.52:4C-5) is amended to read as follows:

     5.    a. (1) [Damages] Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (2) of this subsection, damages awarded under this act shall not exceed the greater of:

     (a) twice the amount of the claimant's income in the year prior to his incarceration;  or [$20,000.00]

   (b) $50,000 for each year of incarceration[, whichever is greater].

     (2) Beginning on the first day of the fifth July following enactment, and on the first day of each fifth July thereafter, the amount set forth in subparagraph (b) of paragraph (1) of subsection a. of this section shall be increased to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all urban consumers for the nation, as reported by the United States Department of Labor.  The State Treasurer shall be responsible for calculating the amount of the increases required by this section, and shall make that information available through publication on the Department of Treasury website.

     (3) In the event that 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 shall consider the best interests of the claimant in making such determination.

     b.    In addition to the damages awarded pursuant to subsection a., the claimant shall be entitled to receive:

     (1) reasonable attorney fees; and

     (2) other services as may be ordered by the court.  The court shall order any such services following an evaluation by the probation department of the claimant’s family situation, educational history, vocational training, employment history, and financial resources, including whether or not the claimant is eligible to be an enrollee or covered person under a health insurance contract, policy or plan.  Services may also include vocational training, tuition assistance, counseling, housing assistance and health insurance coverage as appropriate.

     c.     Damages awarded under this act shall not be subject to treatment as gross income to the claimant under the provisions of the State tax code.

(cf: P.L.1997, c.227, s.5)

 

     5.    Section 17 of P.L.1967, c.43 (C.2A:158A-17) is amended to read as follows:

     17.  a.  The reasonable value of the services rendered to a defendant pursuant to [this act] P.L.1967, c.43 (C.2A:158A-1 et seq.) may in all cases be a lien on any and all property to which the defendant shall have or acquire an interest.  The Public Defender shall effectuate such lien whenever the reasonable value of the services rendered to a defendant appears to exceed $150.00 and may effectuate such lien where the reasonable value of those services appears to be less than $150.00.

     To effectuate such a lien, the Public Defender shall file a notice setting forth the services rendered to the defendant and the reasonable value thereof with the Clerk of the Superior Court.  The filing of said notice with the Clerk of the Superior Court shall from the date thereof constitute a lien on said  property for a period of 10 years, unless sooner discharged and except for such time limitations shall have the force and effect of a Judgment at Law.  Within 10 days of the filing of the Notice of Lien, the Public Defender shall send by certified mail, or serve personally, a copy of such notice with a statement of  the date of the filing thereof to or upon the defendant at his last known address.  If the Public Defender shall fail to give notice, the lien shall be void.

     b.    In any case where the defendant is awarded damages pursuant to P.L.1997, c.227 (C.52:4C-1 et seq.) on grounds that the defendant did not commit the crime for which he was convicted and imprisoned, the Public Defender shall discharge any lien for services rendered concerning that crime.

(cf: P.L.1969, c.29, s.1)

 

     6.    (New section) The provisions of this amendatory and supplementary act (P.L.    , c.       ) (pending before the Legislature as this bill) shall apply to any claimant released from imprisonment or granted a pardon on or after the effective date and to:

     a.     any claimant released from imprisonment or granted a pardon in the five-year period prior to the effective date; and

     b.    any claimant who has a pending claim as of the effective date.

 

     7.    This act shall take effect immediately.


STATEMENT

 

     This bill would increase the amount of compensation awarded under current law to persons mistakenly convicted and imprisoned and would provide for additional services for such persons.

     Under current law, set out in N.J.S.A.52:4C-1 et seq., any person convicted and imprisoned for a crime which he did not commit 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.

     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 the acceptance of an award of damages would constitute a complete release of any claim and a complete bar to any action against the State, any political subdivision, or any employee thereof with respect to the same subject matter

     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.

     In addition, the bill adds new language clarifying eligibility for damages.  Under current law, the claimant must establish that he did not by his own conduct cause or bring about his conviction.  The bill provides that the court may find that a confession or admission later found to be false, or a plea of guilty to a crime that the claimant did not commit, would not constitute “causing or bringing about his conviction” pursuant to the statute.

     Finally, the bill provides that any lien for Public Defender services would be eliminated in cases where the defendant is awarded damages under the statute.  Current law, set out in sections 17 and 18 of P.L.1967, c.43 (C.2A:158A-17 and -18), provides that the Public Defender must effectuate a lien on a defendant’s property in cases where the defendant may have means to meet part of the cost of Public Defender services.