Alvin Jardine spent two decades behind bars after being convicted of breaking into a woman’s home on Maui and raping her repeatedly.
It was a savage crime, but it was a crime he did not commit.
He was 20 years old when he was sentenced to prison in 1992, then the father of a 4-month-old daughter. It would take until 2011 — and improvements in DNA-testing technology — to prove his innocence.
When Jardine was finally exonerated, the state simply released him. No apology, no money, no nothing. Mark Anderson and Shaun Rodrigues received similar treatment last year when they were let go after being wrongly imprisoned for years.
Some state lawmakers want to change that practice. They have introduced legislation that would compensate people who are convicted of crimes they did not commit and are sentenced to prison.
“A person who is imprisoned for another person’s crime loses more than liberty and connections to family and community,” said Virginia Hench, director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, which handled Jardine’s case.
“The exoneree loses reputation, chances for education, earning power, credit towards a pension,” she said in her testimony last week.
Thirty states plus the District of Columbus already provide some form of financial redress for these unfortunate situations. Hawaii could be next.
Bills are working their way through legislative committees right now. It’s a long, uncertain road to final passage in the coming weeks or months, but there are early indications of progress.
On the House side, the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Karl Rhoads, passed House Bill 148 on Friday after amending it. The changes bring it more in line with legislation Rhoads introduced, House Bill 1046, which would give people wrongfully convicted at least $50,000 for each year of imprisonment along with other compensation.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 145 is set to be heard Monday morning before the Judiciary and Labor Committee, chaired by Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran.
“Financial compensation, free tuition or job training, and other compensatory benefits can help the wrongfully convicted person make a smoother re-entry into society and increase their future self-sufficiency,” Hench said.
“Compensation also allows government and citizens to make amends to the wrongly convicted person and, more generally, helps to repair damage to the state’s public legitimacy and boost public faith in the good judgment and fairness of our system.”
The only written testimony against the bills so far comes from state agencies.
The Hawaii Paroling Authority wrote in its testimony against HB 148 that the measure fails to consider the fact that a pardon does not erase the crime, criminal history of the falsely convicted offender or loss suffered by the victims.
“Implementation of this measure as it relates to providing compensation for offenders granted a pardon would be very costly for the state and may have a chilling effect on the pardon process,” HPA Chair Bert Matsuoka wrote in his testimony on the bill.
An hour before Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s term ended last year, he pardoned Rodrigues, who was convicted in 2002 of robbery and kidnapping in Manoa, according to the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations.
Rodrigues had been released in 2011 despite never admitting guilt. His lawyer, William Harrison, filed a 600-page petition with Abercrombie seeking the pardon, according to the registry.
Harrison, who testified Friday on behalf of the Hawaii Innocence Project, said state laws need to strike a balance between the needs of Hawaii citizens and the state.
Cost was a key factor in opposition from the Attorney General’s Office and Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund Administrator Sandra Yahiro.
Yahiro said the EUTF board has yet to take a position on the bill, but she wanted to point out that if the state decides to give an exonerated person free health care coverage for the rest of their lives it would cost an estimated $487,000 to do so per person if the starting age was 45 and ending age was 75.
Anderson spent nine days in jail after being convicted of making terroristic threats over a property dispute on Maui. He was convicted in 2011 and served his time, but two years later an appeals court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Prosecutors dismissed the charge last February.