House passes bill to compensate people wrongly imprisoned

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A compensation process for cases where a person was determined to be innocent of a crime for which they were wrongfully incarcerated was passed 121-2 by the House on Monday.

Sponsored by Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul), HF2925 heads to the Senate where Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) is the sponsor.

“I, as well as many of you, am very proud of our state’s criminal justice system. It’s a system that delivers justice with fairness and integrity, but it is composed of people like you and me, which means it is not perfect,” Lesch said. “Sometimes the system makes mistakes and injustice occurs because of that.”

In addition to creation of a compensation panel of three attorneys or judges to determine damages, the bill would authorize at least $50,000, but no more than $100,000, to the claimant for each year of imprisonment and at least $25,000, but no more than $50,000, per year served on supervised release or as a registered sex offender, to be prorated for partial years served.

Minnesota Management & Budget would submit recommendations of the compensation panel to the Legislature for consideration during the ensuing session.

Compensation statutes exist at the federal level and in 29 other states and the District of Columbia.

The bill would help people like Michael Hansen and Koua Fong Lee.

Hansen served almost seven years in state prison for a crime he did not commit. Accused of killing his 3-month-old daughter, he was exonerated when a district court ruled that a medical examiner erred regarding the cause of his daughter’s death.

When he was released from incarceration, Hansen received zero state assistance for housing, transportation, health care or insurance. Nor did he receive an apology.

Lee was released after 33 months in prison when it was determined his Toyota experienced an acceleration malfunction causing it to crash into another car in St. Paul, killing a man and two children.

He missed the birth of his youngest child while wrongfully incarcerated, and he had to regain the trust of his other children when released.

“Nothing can buy the time that I spent away from my family, but this compensation statute would help a little bit,” Lee told the House Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee March 26. “Passing this legislation is the right thing to do.”