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(INDIANAPOLIS) –  Hoosiers who served time for crimes they didn’t commit may get compensation from the state.

About 35 Hoosiers have been cleared of crimes after spending time in prison. The House has already unanimously approved a bill offering them $50,000 for every year they were behind bars. The first of two Senate committees added its unanimous approval on Tuesday.

Avon Representative Greg Steuerwald (R) says he began considering the issue during the long process of rewriting Indiana’s criminal code. He began drafting the bill after the enactment of last year’s law requiring the collection of DNA from anyone arrested for a felony. He notes the genetic tests can not only establish someone’s guilt, but their innocence.

Just having your conviction thrown out wouldn’t be enough. But if it turned out you weren’t involved in a crime at all, you’d have until November 2021 to apply for compensation. The only catch: applicants would have to drop any lawsuits over their arrest.  Steuerwald says some of the 35 former inmates identified by researchers have already concluded their litigation and would be ineligible, except for four who lost their cases for reasons unrelated to the merits of their case, such as police officers’s general legal immunity from being sued. 

For those who have lawsuits pending, Steuerwald says they’d have the option of declining the state payment and continuing their suits. He says wrongful-conviction cases can result in verdicts far larger than what the bill would provide, but there’s no guarantee of victory, and the process can take years. 

The bill would apply to future wrongful convictions too, but Steuerwald says those should become even rarer, because authorities now take DNA samples at the start of the process.

(Photo: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)