BOISE —The Wrongful Conviction Act has cleared yet another hurdle. On Wednesday, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill that would provide compensation to those wrongly convicted of a crime. The vote follows last week’s do-pass recommendation from the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee and testimony from those impacted by wrongful convictions.
The bill must now pass through the House of Representatives and the governor’s office. It is not an unfamiliar path. Almost a year ago, Gov. Brad Little vetoed a previous version of the Idaho Wrongful Conviction Act. Many were surprised by this, as it had passed the Senate unanimously and almost unanimously in the House, with only one representative voting against it.
Bill sponsor Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, did not want to let the idea go. He worked with the governor’s office to create a version that Little would approve.
The most significant change in the new version involves how the claimant is compensated. The vetoed bill would have given claimants a total of $60,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned. The new version will give claimants $62,000 per year. Like last year’s bill, claimants will get an additional $25,000 per year on parole, and if a claimant was on death row then the annual amount is upped to $75,000 per year.
The change comes out of Little’s biggest contention with the 2020 bill. Little did not like its inclusion of “non-monetary relief” such as health insurance or counseling in addition to monetary compensation. The additional $2,000 per year is intended to serve as compensation in lieu of any non-monetary relief.
The inspiration for the bill is Idaho Falls’ own Christopher Tapp. Tapp served 20 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of Angie Dodge in 1998. Tapp was released from prison in 2017 following concerns that his confession had been coerced. In 2019, new DNA evidence matched Dodge’s neighbor Brian Leigh Dripps to the DNA found at the crime scene.
Tapp testified last week about the difficult life he was left with after his wrongful imprisonment.
”I was released with no more than the clothes on my back, left completely relying on family and friends to help me while I tried to rebuild my life. … I lost 20 years of earnings for my future and was left labeled with a felony conviction making it harder to start making up for my lost time,” Tapp told the committee.