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Houses Passes Wrongful Conviction Bill

The Tim Cole Act increases compensation for the wrongfully convicted

By Jordan Smith, Fri., May 1, 2009

House Passes Wrongful Conviction Bill

On April 24, the Texas House passed the Tim Cole Act (House Bill 1736) by Rep. Rafael Anchía, which increases the lump-sum compensation paid to wrongfully convicted persons to $80,000 for each year spent in prison. The bill also sets compensation at $25,000 for each year a wrongfully convicted person spent on probation or registered as a sex offender.

The measure is named for Timothy Cole, who spent 13 years in prison for a 1985 rape he did not commit. Cole died in prison in 1999, but it wasn't until this year that he was officially exonerated, after a two-day hearing in Travis County.

Under current law, Cole's family is not eligible to collect the more than $1 million in compensation that Cole would be owed. Anchía's bill would change that to make the heirs or family of a deceased inmate eligible for the lump-sum compensation. It also requires the state to provide exonerees with free tuition at a trade school, community college, or state university, up to 120 credits. By accepting the state compensation, an exoneree gives up the right to file a civil rights lawsuit against the state.

Anchía told his colleagues that the measure tries to "achieve a semblance of justice" for folks whose lives have been halted by a wrongful conviction. A handful of Texas' 38 exonerees were on hand in the House gallery for the passage of the measure. "Don't think of these men as the other; think of them as 'us,'" Anchía said. "Because, frankly, what happened to these men could happen to any of us. It could happen to the representatives in this body; it could happen to our children." The bill passed with just one dissenting vote (Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas).

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