In June 2019, Governor Eric Holcomb signed HB 1150, legislation that provides compensation for people wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit. This law made Indiana one of 35 states to enact a compensation law for exonerated people.
The law provides exonerated people with up to $50,000 in compensation for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned in exchange for their agreement not to sue the state for the wrongful conviction. The law intends to help redress the deep wrong of incarcerating an innocent person, provide them with financial and social assistance to ease their transition back into society, and give a sense of justice to encourage exonerees to move forward.
Despite receiving 15 applications, the state has yet to pay out any funds. According to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, the agency that runs the program, the delay is due to the amount of time it takes to ensure that all the state law criteria have been met. The coronavirus pandemic has also slowed the process.
The wait is difficult for applicants such as Kristine Bunch, a woman wrongfully convicted of setting fire to her mobile home, which killed her 3-year old son. Bunch served 17 years in prison before the court overturned her conviction. She did not receive any financial support from the state after her release. Although she earned two undergraduate degrees in prison, she has had no employment experience, nor does she have a driver’s license or housing, all of which make it challenging for her to achieve financial stability.
Bunch says: “They’re going to talk to everyone who opposed me to get their opinion to weigh in, too…[U]ltimately when the decision comes down it will be based on whether or not they believe I’m innocent.”
If her application is accepted, she will be entitled to receive $850,000.
Agency spokesman Ben Gavelek notes that: “Each application must be reviewed for completeness, which not only requires a thorough examination of the documents provided by the claimants, but also, as part of the process, requires us to pursue other sources of information, such as court case records, and verify time served post-conviction.”
According to Republican state representative Greg Steuerwald of Avon, the agency is working hard and making headway in processing the applications.
If you believe you have been wrongfully convicted of a crime, don’t hesitate to contact the criminal defense lawyers of Razumich & Associates. We stand ready to fight for your rights.