Sunday, February 20, 2011

Florida won’t pay for injustice

The following opinion by Fred Grimm was published by the Miami Herald on February 19, 2011.

All this talk about compensation for wrongful convictions. Not in Florida. Not for the likes of Anthony Caravella.

Why, it’s Caravella who owes Florida — $71.93 a day. Comes to $682,615.70 for the 26 years Anthony mooched room and board off the Florida penal system, taking up valuable prison space for a crime someone committed.

The lousy freeloader. He’s damn lucky the Florida Legislature doesn’t send him a bill.

Compensation? This is a Legislature bent on cutting public school and state university budgets, pension costs, healthcare for the poor and disabled, nursing-home services for the elderly. Some pathetic case from Miramar, IQ of 67, busted at 15 and imprisoned for the next 26 years for a crime he didn’t commit, released March 25 without job skills? Get real.

Let’s examine the only facts that matter: Anthony Caravella hasn’t established a political action committee, hired a lobbyist or ponied up crucial campaign contributions. He belongs to a politically impotent constituency: Floridians whose lives were ruined by shoddy police investigations, negligent prosecutors, oblivious judges. A bunch of convenient stooges for a justice system in need of quick and easy convictions. In 1983, Caravella, young and slow minded, was easily bullied into confessing to a rape and murder that, 26 years later, DNA testing proved he didn’t commit.

Florida did pass a Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act three years ago, after an embarrassing slew of convictions were reversed, most after DNA testing. The law authorized paying innocents $50,000 for every year spent behind bars. It was an “illusory impact,” said Seth Miller, director of the Florida Innocence Project. Miller said the law included a “clean hands” provision that disqualifies a wrongfully convicted prisoner with a prior felony conviction.

“Clean hands” proved to be brilliant money saver for Florida (the only state with such a proviso). Cops don’t find their patsies on the membership rolls of the chamber of commerce. Miramar police knew Caravella from a string of juvenile offenses – the same crimes that now preclude him from compensation.

None of the dozen convicted men cleared by DNA testing in Florida have received compensation. A Sun Sentinel reporter found several afflicted with poverty, living off food stamps. Caravella had spent time in a homeless shelter. Only one, James Bain, who did 35 years of hard time, qualifies under “clean hands” and will likely get his money.

After all, William Dillon, who did 27 years on a trumped up murder conviction, had been busted in 1979 for possession of a single Quaalude. Of course, he’s out of the money.

In a Kafka-like twist, Orlando Boquete, who did 13 years for a murder and robbery he didn’t commit, doesn’t qualify because he managed to escape prison while serving his wrongful sentence.
Luis Diaz, the so-called Bird Road Rapist of Miami-Dade County who, as it turned out, wasn’t, did 25 years. Sorry, Luis. No money.

The list goes on; ruined lives for whom wrongful incarceration compensation remains an illusionary concept. Sorry guys but fairness . . . that’s a budget buster.

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