Civil Rights

The Careful Legislator

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Alan Crotzer was convicted of a brutal rape in Florida way back in 1982. Last year, he was exonerated with DNA evidence. He served 24 years in prison, and was denied permission to attend his mother's funeral.

Nevertheless, the Florida legislature is taking its sweet time compensating him. When the Florida house finally approved a $1.25 million compensation package, the state's senate allowed the session to expire without approving the bill, meaning Crotzer will have to wait (at least) another year.

State Senate President Ken Pruitt told the Miami Herald :

"I'm not going to give an opinion on what's fair and not fair. The Senate is not going to be put in a position where we're doing it at the last minute. Nothing good ever happens whenever you're rushed or you work late."

In the past, Pruitt has shown his measured, careful approach to legislating by, for example, exhorting voters to demand emergency legislation that would force "Florida's liberals" to "take a stand one way or the other" on the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools and allowing Boy Scouts to meet in public facilities.

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  1. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I think some of our democratically elected officials just might be hypocrites

  2. While we’re at it, let’s compensate the families of every person who was “unjustly” convicted of a crime before modern fingerprinting techniques were invented.

    Was Crotzer unjustly convicted of a crime he did not commit? Or did the judge and jury work with the evidence they had available at the time and make a decision based on that evidence? If everyone acted in good faith, then a dangerous precedent is being established by the state’s paying of what amounts to reparations. Where does one draw the legal line? And what principle requires state (meaning taxpayer) compensation to such a victim who was convicted in part because a high-tech laboratory procedure had not yet been invented? Where’s the culpability?

  3. Was Crotzer unjustly convicted of a crime he did not commit?

    Being convicted of a crime you did not commit is by definition unjust.

  4. ed,

    I kind of see what your going for, but I distrust the notion of “acted in good faith” as people always claim they were acting good faith.

    If a person is innocent of a crime, someone along the way must have noticed that all the facts didn’t quite fit and chose to gloss over that and proceed anyway. Penalizing the state when they get it wrong might reduce the incentive to fudge details instead of simply chasing after a conviction. Not as much as penalizing the prosecutors involved would

  5. Ed has a point. The legal system imposes huge costs on ordinary people’s mistakes, elevating simple errors to malfeasance, negligence, and malpractice all the time. While it’s perhaps poetic justice to contemplate the same being done for incorrect verdicts, perhaps the other tack is more appropriate and we should be more forgiving, or more cheaply forgiving, of people’s good-faith errors.

  6. Ed is absolutely right. Just because this person was unable to prove his innocence at the time doesn’t mean he should expect to hit the jackpot now that he has been cleared of the crime. He should be satisfied that after 24 years in prison, he can vote. Surely that is reward enough!

    I don’t know if the prosecution of Crotzer was in good faith or not. It is possible that it was, and possible it wasn’t; as some other Hit and Run articles have argued, sometimes crime labs give the prosecution the evidence it wants, not the troublesome facts that get in the way of convictions.

  7. I dunno. If they convicted me of a crime I didn’t commit, I’d want serious compensation as well as the heads of the prosecutor(s) and possibly the judge. On a pike.

    This is and should be a strict liability offense. The government needs every incentive to do things right. Even with this sort of compensation, prosecutors suppress exculpatory evidence–an illegal and unethical practice–and fight tooth and nail to keep people in prison when it’s become clear that they probably are innocent. No, we should pay each and every time. How do you give someone back their life? To argue otherwise is to make the state just that much more greater than the individual.

  8. Weren?t jurors held liable for wrongful convictions in medieval England? Methinks that would make the peers deliberate a little more carefully.

  9. ProLib: Exactly. Furthermore we currently reward prosecutors for conviction rates rather than for getting the facts of any individual case right. That’s asinine if we want justice out of the judicial system. If we don’t want justice, and I’m sure that many folks would rather “do something” than have just outcomes, I think our system is just fine.

  10. Too bad he’s not in a coma with family members threatening to pull the plug. I am sure the legislature would come running to convene a special session to address that issue. Damn his cursive brain aliveness.

  11. “Ed is absolutely right. Just because this person was unable to prove his innocence at the time doesn’t mean he should expect to hit the jackpot now that he has been cleared of the crime. He should be satisfied that after 24 years in prison, he can vote. Surely that is reward enough!”

    hell, he should be glad they didn’t just shoot him!

    right? right?

    how much money would you need to make up for 24 years of your life taken away?

  12. It seems to me that if “good faith” can be demonstrated (or at least that there be no evidence of bad faith) then any criminal proceeding against the prosecuters, etc., would be avoided.

    But clearly, the state owes the wrongfully convicted compensation for the time they did, just as they owe compensation to a homeowner in the path of a new freeway.

  13. how much money would you need to make up for 24 years of your life taken away?

    Enough to extend my life an additional 24 years (in youthful health) and to pay for at least $10,000,000 in goods and services. Oh, and nothing I do is ever taxed, and government employees have to bow and apologize as I walk by.

    Did I mention the heads on the pike? How much does that cost?

  14. how much money would you need to make up for 24 years of your life taken away?

    24 x my current salary plus $100,000 for each ass-rape ought to cover it.

  15. Being convicted of a crime you did not commit is by definition unjust.

    Not if all the evidence was presented and there was no malfeasance by the prosecutors, judge or jury. You may as well say our criminal justice system is by nature unjust because, occasionally, innocent people are convicted (and guilty people are set free).

  16. Pro Lib: And that’s why we don’t let aggrieved parties draft legislation, unless they’re parents of victimized children.

    If based on the available evidence at the time, there was no reasonable doubt you did it–if your alibi didn’t check out, if you were identified or placed at the location…and you were convicted, tough luck. It’s better to let 10 guilty go free than lock up one innnocent, but nobody’s perfect.

    Now, if you were railroaded by a Nifong precursor, you’d have a case. But simply being incorrectly convicted shouldn’t be enough.

  17. Was Crotzer unjustly convicted of a crime he did not commit?

    Yes, by definition.

    Twenty four years is a long, long time, regardless of any alleged “good faith” of the prosecutors and jury.

  18. If based on the available evidence at the time, there was no reasonable doubt you did it–if your alibi didn’t check out, if you were identified or placed at the location…and you were convicted, tough luck. It’s better to let 10 guilty go free than lock up one innnocent, but nobody’s perfect.

    Easy for you to say. Twenty four years in the prison system in Florida would probably cause a dramatic change in your perspective. If it can happen to him, it can happen to you. Or someone you love.

  19. I think justice has some substantive or objective component, and consists of more than just being properly processed.

    So, yeah, I would say any conviction for something you didn’t do is unjust.

  20. JB, I think the phrase is; “better to let 100 guilty go free than lock up 1 innocent”

  21. The fact that mistakes are inevitable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t compensate the victims of mistakes. Sure, maybe everybody involved did act in good faith and try their hardest, and this is just the result of the fact that the system isn’t perfect. (Or maybe not. I don’t know.) But even if that is the case, it’s only fair and reasonable to give some compensation to the guy who was convicted and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.

    Saying “mistakes happen” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make up for them when they’re found.

    And, in addition to the fairness angle, there’s also the matter of incentives: If mistakes are costly, there will be more incentive to avoid them.

  22. “This is and should be a strict liability offense. The government needs every incentive to do things right. Even with this sort of compensation, prosecutors suppress exculpatory evidence–an illegal and unethical practice–and fight tooth and nail to keep people in prison when it’s become clear that they probably are innocent. No, we should pay each and every time. How do you give someone back their life? To argue otherwise is to make the state just that much more greater than the individual.”

    PL gets it. ed doesn’t. (This being the internet, I’ll put a no snark disclaimer here.)

  23. If the IRS found out that you didn’t pay your taxes correctly a few years ago, would they write it off because your taxes were done “in good faith?”

    “Oh, come on. It’s not like he lied. He just made a mistake. Surely it’s too late to punish him for that.”

  24. Come on. We allow civil actions for negligence and apply a strict liability standard for products liability. Why shouldn’t the government have to pay out when it acts negligently, and why shouldn’t the standard for liability be very high indeed when someone’s life is ruined or nearly ruined by government action?

    And I’m being charitable about the “negligence” analogy, because I think prosecutors are willfully blind to exculpatory evidence far too frequently. Not always, but more than zero, that’s for sure.

    In any event, I’m not really looking for heads on pikes as far as the compensation issue goes, but accountability for playing free and lose with the rules is necessary. If you couldn’t know that a guy was innocent, that’s just life. But if you did know or should’ve known if you’d been doing your job, that’s got to be actionable.

  25. Shut up Mr. Libertate! You were not brought upon this world to get it!

  26. I got no problem with strict liability for sending someone to jail for something he didn’t do.

    Why should our justice system be held to a lower standard than our power tools?

  27. R C Dean,

    Precisely. I’m going to put that on a t-shirt.

  28. back in the day a lot of rape cases were just the victim pointing and the accused locked up.

  29. Nothing good ever happens whenever … you work late.

    Speaking of heads on pikes…

  30. lunchstealer nails the most outrageous statement in the piece. For starters, if you work late, you might actually get your work done. If this guy gets reelected (or hired for any other job the rest of his life) with that howler on his record, there really is no justice.

  31. Yous guys are too caught up in your private sector thinking. “Nothing good” is really what happens when public employees, politicians in particular, work late.

  32. ProLibertate: I agree that this should be a strict liability offense. There should be a certain dollar amount per year. $1.25 million for 24 years would work out to $50,000 per year. That number should be doubled. Hell, $50,000 per year might not even be as much as the person earned before getting wrongfully jailed.

    The problem, I guess, is that prosecutors would have a sick incentive to block DNA testing at all costs. Perhaps that would be counterbalanced by the incentive to get the facts right sooner rather than later.

  33. Clearly, we need local-level Censors to handle these investigations. Prosecutors have a vested interest right now in blocking a too-close look at their tactics.

  34. Being convicted of a crime you did not commit is by definition unjust.

    Not if all the evidence was presented and there was no malfeasance by the prosecutors, judge or jury.

    The classical definition of justice is “giving every person his due.” What was due to Alan Crotzer was his freedom, 24 years ago. He was not given it. Thus, he was treated unjustly.

  35. It is amazing that an elected representative can actually state, “I’m not going to give an opinion on what’s fair and not fair”
    Maybe I misjudge him – he just takes money to vote on stuff, without regard to justice, philosopy, principals, or if taxes should be higher or lower.

  36. And, in addition to the fairness angle, there’s also the matter of incentives: If mistakes are costly, there will be more incentive to avoid them.

    Probably not, unless you’re planning to make the prosecutors, judges, and jurors all pay out of their own pockets (even in cases where they’re living off social security 24 years after the fact). And if you do that, you reduce the incentives for prosecutors, judges, and jurors to put people who really *are* guilty behind bars.

  37. Just because this person was unable to prove his innocence at the time doesn’t mean he should expect to hit the jackpot now that he has been cleared of the crime.

    But see, he didn’t have to prove his innocence at the time. The prosecution had to prove his guilt, which it apparently did (to the satisfaction of the jury, at least). This isn’t his fault. He did nothing wrong. It is entirely the fault of the prosecutor, judge, and jury in his case. Why shouldn’t he be compensated for the loss of his earnings over those twenty-four years, plus some for the suffering of being separated from his family and society?

    Why should our justice system be held to a lower standard than our power tools?

    Because power tool makers aren’t as politically connected as judges and prosecutors. Duh.

  38. “””Nothing good ever happens whenever you’re rushed or you work late.””””

    Tell that to my boss.

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