The double-speak coming from proponents of a bill to set a maximum amount a wrongfully convicted person could receive from the state is galling.
Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen's wishy-washy argument went like this:
“It’s a relatively low maximum payout of $300,000 ... where at the same time you could have it easily go into the millions of dollars.”
“It’s not just legally smart, it’s a moral imperative that we do something to help these people.”
We'll take B over A in this case.
He's right in that the state has a deep "moral imperative" to make right when it robs someone of years -- or in Andrew Johnson's case, decades -- of his or her life.
He's wrong in suggesting there should be a legislative cap in these cases. And if there must be a cap, $75 a day is cheap justice.
Who would take $75 in return for 24 hours of life in prison? That's $3.13 per hour.
To compound the insult, the per diem applies only to the days the wrongfully convicted person is incarcerated in prison. All of the days and months in smaller jails, legal fees and family stress leading to the bad judgment would amount to exactly $0.00.
We appreciate that lawmakers are examining the issue, brought to light recently after the 24-year-old case against Johnson was dropped last month. DNA evidence, not available at the time of Johnson's conviction in 1989, forced prosecutors to make the decision (though they stubbornly and equally unjustly refused to exonerate Johnson).
But this isn't a budgetary decision. This isn't school construction, highway repairs, or capitol renovations.
The monetary solution seems more like a way to cover the state's backside than to make a wrongfully convicted person -- like Johnson -- whole.
In these cases, a significant portion of a life was taken away by the state -- the investigators and prosecutors represent us in these instances, meaning a group of people targeted, pursued, detained, jailed, convicted and incarcerated the wrong person. In short, this wasn't one wrong decision, rather a series of invaluable, compounding mistakes.
Some questions: What is your freedom worth? Is there a limit to that? Would you say, "No worries" to Barney Fife if he wrongfully locked you up for a few hours -- let alone a few decades?
The bottom line is that the only people the payout limit protects are those who would be on the hook for writing the checks.
In admittedly rare instances, the state should be able to admit fault better than this.
The residents of Wyoming trust our leaders to make good on their promises and make right when they've wronged.
Putting a low price tag on the worst mistake a government can take against an individual is a cheap and insulting way of doing that.