Crime & Courts

New bill would give payouts to wrongfully convicted Alaskans

The public can soon weigh in on a bill that would give financial compensation to wrongfully convicted Alaskans who have been exonerated.

House Bill 55 is sponsored by state Rep. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, who said the bill was inspired by the Fairbanks Four case, although because they were technically not exonerated, they would not reap the benefits of the bill.

Kawasaki could not cite a specific Alaska exoneration case the bill would apply to, but said 30 states have similar practices in place. He also referenced national data that showed the number of exonerations increasing with the availability of DNA testing and other technologies.

In 2015, a record number of people in the U.S. were exonerated, according to a report from the National Registry of Exonerations. Out of the 149 people, five had been sentenced to death and one-third had been convicted of murder. Some of the exonerated had pleaded guilty or falsely confessed. (The report includes the Fairbanks Four under a broader definition of exoneration that is not limited to being found innocent.)

"As a matter of fairness, Alaska should have a system in place to allow those wrongfully convicted to seek redress in the form of monetary compensation when their liberty is taken from them by the state," Kawasaki said in a release.

The bill could see amendments, but as it's written now it states that exonerated Alaskans would receive $50,000 a year with a $2 million cap, which would put Alaska in line with federal compensation standards.

On Wednesday, the bill will go before the House Judiciary Committee. The public hearing will begin at 1 p.m. Those interested in testifying can call the teleconference number at 1-884-586-9085 or visit a state Legislative Information Office.

HB 55 is not the only Fairbanks Four-inspired piece of legislation making its way through Juneau, though. State Rep. Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, is the sponsor of HB 243, which would allow Alaskans who've had their felony convictions overturned or charges against them dismissed to become eligible for the Permanent Fund dividend.

Megan Edge

Megan Edge is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.