Yet again, Illinois Governor Rauner and lawmakers in Springfield have proven themselves unable to perform the most basic function of running a state: passing a budget. Illinois has not had a real budget for over a year, and with the passage on June 30 of a “stopgap” (read: bare bones) appropriation bill, our elected officials have given themselves permission to continue this train wreck for another six months.
How have exonerees fared during the budget standoff? They have received zilch. Illinois is one of 30 states (plus the federal government and D.C.) with a compensation statute on the books. It is not overly generous – it caps awards at around $200,000 regardless of length of incarceration – but exonerees who are declared innocent rightfully anticipate and depend upon these funds. Functionally, however, Illinois currently has NO compensation law, because for over a year, the “stopgap” appropriation bills have not included funds for exonerees who have already been certified innocent and have received monetary awards from the Illinois Court of Claims.
Who are these people? They include my client Christopher Coleman, who spent 19 years in prison for a home invasion he did not commit. They include Daniel Andersen, who served more than 27 years in prison and then had to register as a sex offender before his exoneration of a murder he did not commit. Coleman and other exonerees are profiled in this Chicago Tribune article from last fall, describing the harm exonerees were suffering due to the budget impasse. Amazingly, nothing has changed since then other than that the list is longer and they are another year in debt.
Regardless of whether their wrongful convictions resulted from malice or negligence, these individuals were gravely harmed by the government and deserve redress. Had they been lottery winners, they would have received their winnings by now, as lottery payoffs have been funded even during the budget crisis. It is simply unacceptable that Illinois is still refusing to honor its obligations to persons who spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.
Governor Rauner, Illinois legislators – where is your conscience?