BOISE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little has vetoed legislation that would have set up a process to compensate people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, but suggested he would approve future legislation that didn’t put the state in court as a first step.
The Republican governor on Monday said the measure’s objective was admirable, but that its process was flawed.
“The bill immediately forces the state into an adversarial legal proceeding in court with the claimant,” Little wrote in his veto message.
He suggested instead using an existing board or commission to review cases, such as the Commission on Pardons and Parole or the Board of Examiners. He said that process would be faster and that denied claims could be appealed in courts.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Doug Ricks, said supporters were blindsided by the veto of the bill that passed the Senate 32-0 and House 64-1. Those are numbers great enough to override a veto, but the Legislature adjourned earlier this month due to concerns about the coronavirus.
Ricks said that under the bill, anyone entering the process would have already been exonerated in the courts. He said the legislation’s use of the courts was as an oversight to make sure people seeking compensation met the criteria and to determine the amount of compensation.
“That’s the reason for the court,” Ricks said. “It’s not to retry the whole process.”
He said the bill had been vetted by prosecuting attorneys, the courts and the Idaho attorney general’s office. Republican Sen. Todd Lakey, an attorney, also took part.
Little said his office will work with lawmakers to create an acceptable process for a bill to be submitted in the future, and Ricks said he’d be back again next year to do that.
“We do hope that the governor is sincere in working together next year, and I look forward to working with him to get this done,” Ricks said.
The legislation would have paid $60,000 to people who have been wrongly incarcerated and $75,000 per year to exonerated death row inmates.
Ricks said six former inmates could have benefited from the measure.
He has said the state needs to take responsibility when innocent people are incarcerated. Idaho is one of 15 states that doesn’t compensate people sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
Idaho has several notable cases of exonerated prisoners who have received no compensation, including Christopher Tapp and Charles Fain. Both testified before lawmakers earlier this year.
Tapp was convicted of rape and murder following the 1996 death of Angie Dodge. He was released in 2017, and DNA evidence cleared him in 2019. Brian Leigh Dripps was arrested on DNA evidence last year and is charged with rape and murder in Dodge’s death.
Fain was convicted of kidnapping, rape and murder in 1983 following the death of 9-year-old Daralyn Johnson. In 1984, he was sentenced to death.
But DNA evidence not available at the time of the conviction later cleared him, and he was released in 2001. Johnson’s killer hasn’t been identified.
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