Court orders Texas to pay exonerated man $66K

March 5, 2011 6:04:21 AM PST
The Texas Supreme Court on Friday upheld an exonerated man's claim for an additional $66,000 in compensation that the state comptroller initially refused to pay for his wrongful imprisonment.

Billy Smith was wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting a woman at knifepoint and sentenced to life in prison. Smith spent nearly 20 years behind bars before DNA testing proved his innocence in 2006.

The comptroller denied Smith's compensation request for the first 10 months he was in prison because the false conviction had revoked his parole for an earlier robbery. Texas law prevents the wrongfully imprisoned from collecting full compensation if they were also serving a sentence for another crime. The comptroller invoked that statute to back up her argument.

Smith's lawyer appealed to the Texas Supreme Court last year, arguing that the comptroller applied the law improperly and Smith's parole wouldn't have been violated if it weren't for the wrongful conviction.

While the court found the statute vague enough to lend itself to either party's interpretation, it ultimately determined the state must pay Smith for the entire time he spent behind bars.

The comptroller's argument was rejected based on other cases where the state compensated people whose probation had been revoked only due to the wrongful convictions.

"The concurrent-sentence restriction does not apply when the wrongful conviction is the cause of the person serving a concurrent sentence in prison," Justice David Medina wrote for the court.

Smith already received $1.527 million in compensation.