Saturday, April 20, 2024

Louisiana AG’s fights against exonerees’ compensation are pointless, costly to taxpayers

by BIZ Magazine

More than nearly every other state, Louisiana has a dismal track record of wrongful incarceration. Its criminal justice system exonerates more people on a per capita basis — 1.93 for every 100,000 citizens — than anywhere else but Illinois (2.34), according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

To be perfectly clear, these are people who have been completely cleared of wrongdoing, either through DNA or other evidence that proves well beyond a shadow of a doubt they are not guilty and should not be imprisoned. 

In recognition of such errors, Louisiana lawmakers in 2005 approved an Innocence Compensation Fund for the wrongfully incarcerated, although what constitutes a fair amount has been frequently debated and litigated. Put simply, state leaders have acknowledged mistakes are made, and they have agreed there should be some level of recourse for those impacted.

Attorney General Jeff Landry has often led the fights to deny state payments to people who’ve unjustifiably been put behind bars. According to a report from our partners at WVUE-TV Fox 8, Landry has objected to providing compensation in 11 out of 13 exoneration cases since he took office in 2016. Out of those 11 cases, the AG has lost eight with three others pending.

By comparison, Landry’s predecessor Buddy Caldwell challenged compensation for nine of the 27 wrongfully convicted exonerees during his time in office, according to Fox 8 research.

It should be noted these numbers do not include all people who’ve had convictions overturned, only those who were exonerated because courts were presented with proof of their innocence. Again, there is no question these exonerees have been 100% cleared, and that the state is entirely responsible for their wrongful incarceration.

Any tough-on-crime arguments used to support Landry’s stance against compensating exonerees fall flat and hard. Ensuring that criminals are held accountable doesn’t involve extra punishment for those who aren’t even guilty in the first place.     

Landry’s office initially challenged Fox 8’s reporting but has yet to support its claims of inaccuracy. Court records confirm all of the information reported.

Much like his questioning of the journalism at hand, the AG’s battles against the compensation of exonerees comprise a pointless crusade with absolutely no winner, regardless of the outcome. Instead of putting resources toward the denial of fair remuneration, the state should be going the extra mile to restore the wrongfully imprisoned financially, socially and in whatever way it can to account for the criminal justice system’s mistakes.

Greg LaRose is editor of the Louisiana Illuminator. He has covered news in Louisiana for more than 30 years.

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