Thursday, December 17, 2020
So, why is this a big deal?
On August 26th, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that the State had failed to disclose gobs of exculpatory evidence, leading to Ronnie Long being wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for more than 44 years. Then, the next day, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina vacated his convictions and two life sentences.
North Carolina is among the majority of states that has a statute providing for compensation to the wrongfully convicted. But, like a handful of states, it has a strict requirement that precludes many exonerees from getting a cent. Section 148-82(a) of the North Carolina General Statutes states that
Any person who, having been convicted of a felony and having been imprisoned therefor in a State prison of this State, and who was thereafter or who shall hereafter be granted a pardon of innocence by the Governor upon the grounds that the crime with which the person was charged either was not committed at all or was not committed by that person, may as hereinafter provided present by petition a claim against the State for the pecuniary loss sustained by the person through his or her erroneous conviction and imprisonment, provided the petition is presented within five years of the granting of the pardon.
So, the court vacating Ronnie Long's convction(s) wasn't enough. He needed a Pardon of Innocence from the Governor...and he got it. This entitles him to recovery under Section 148-84(a) of the North Carolina General Statutes, which states in pertinent part:
If the Industrial Commission finds from the evidence that the claimant received a pardon of innocence for the reason that the crime was not committed at all, received a pardon of innocence for the reason that the crime was not committed by the claimant, or that the claimant was determined to be innocent of all charges by a three-judge panel under G.S. 15A-1469 and also finds that the claimant was imprisoned and has been vindicated in connection with the alleged offense for which he or she was imprisoned, the Industrial Commission shall award to the claimant an amount equal to fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) for each year or the pro rata amount for the portion of each year of the imprisonment actually served, including any time spent awaiting trial. However, (i) in no event shall the compensation, including the compensation provided in subsection (c) of this section, exceed a total amount of seven hundred fifty thousand dollars ($750,000), and (ii) a claimant is not entitled to compensation for any portion of a prison sentence during which the claimant was also serving a concurrent sentence for conviction of a crime other than the one for which the pardon of innocence was granted (emphasis added).
And so, Ronnie Long should receive $750,000 in compensation. It can't come close to making up for 44+ years of wrongful imprisonment, but I hope it helps him in the transition to life outside prison that can be so difficult.