On October 1, 2015 Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill 635, authored by Senator Jim Nielsen, co-authored by Senator Mark Leno, and sponsored by the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP). Senate Bill 635 increases exoneree compensation from $100 to $140 for each day the exoneree spent wrongly incarcerated.

The passage of this law is welcomed news for innocent people like NCIP exoneree Maurice Caldwell who spent 21 years locked up for a crime he did not commit. “When exonerees get out of prison, we need places to live, clothes, therapy and a chance to go to school to learn the skills we missed out on. No amount of money can make up for what we went through but this bill provides meaningful compensation that will really help,” Maurice Caldwell said.

NCIP exoneree Maurice Caldwell visits the state Capitol to testify in support of SB 635. Photo: Lucy Salcido Carter

NCIP exoneree Maurice Caldwell visits the state Capitol to testify in support of SB 635. Photo: Lucy Salcido Carter

Caldwell was convicted of murder and imprisoned based on the testimony of a single eyewitness, who initially couldn’t identify the shooters at the crime scene. Caldwell appealed to NCIP, at Santa Clara University School of Law, for help to prove his innocence. Lawyers, students and investigators began probing his case and located two witnesses who said Caldwell was not involved in the crime in any way. NCIP also found the real killer who confessed to the crime.

Armed with this confession, NCIP brought Caldwell’s case back to the courts. He was exonerated when a judge found the original trial attorney ineffective for failing to adequately investigate the case.

The current compensation rate for exonerees in California was set 15 years ago. Senate Bill 635 brings compensation rates up to meet current standards of living and to better help wrongly convicted individuals like Caldwell rebuild their lives upon release from prison.

“NCIP was honored to work on Senate Bill 635 with Senators Nielsen and Leno and delighted that the Governor signed it,” said NCIP Policy Director Lucy Salcido Carter. “The bill acknowledges the harm exonerees have experienced through wrongful conviction and loss of freedom and brings exoneree compensation levels up to account for inflation. We thank Senators Nielsen and Leno for their attention to this vital issue and for authoring this important bill.”

“In cases where an innocent person has been wrongly accused and incarcerated, we as a society have the responsibility and moral obligation to acknowledge that our system is not perfect, and they deserve compensation to get their lives back in order,” Senator Jim Nielsen said.

Senator Mark Leno acknowledged that “The wrongfully incarcerated can never get back the time spent in prison that separated them from their loved ones and cut off other opportunities and life experiences,” but noted that Senate Bill 635 “provides increased compensation to help them rebuild some of what was lost.”

Maurice Caldwell still awaits compensation for his time spent wrongly incarcerated. He applied for compensation to the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board in 2013; his claim is still pending.

A press release from Sen. Nielsen’s office can be found here.