When he died at the hands of a hit-and run driver early last year, Arthur Carmona was still hard at work trying to help people like him who had been convicted of crimes they didn't commit, and whose problems didn't end when, miracle of miracles, the justice system finally corrected itself and declared them innocent. Now, nearly two years after Carmona's tragic death and almost a decade after he walked out of prison a free man, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger has finally signed a bill that will make it much easier for wrongfully convicted individuals to get justice.
Arnie had already vetoed previous versions of the bill, but last night he signed into law AB316, which was written by Jose Solorio, (D-Santa Ana), and which passed the legislature with a unanimous vote and only one abstention, OC's very own Mike Duvall (R-Drippy), who apparently had bigger problems to deal with at the time.
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Among other things, the legislation will make it easier for inmates who were sent to prison thanks in part to legal incompetence to sue their attorneys. Under existing law, inmates have to file a claim against their attorney within a year of having discovered--or, and here's the key loophole--from when they should have discovered--the wrongdoing, or within four years from the date the wrongdoing occurred. Now, inmates would have two years from the date their charges are overturned to file such a claim.
Until now, inmates also had only six months from exoneration to file a claim with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims board to receive $100 per day they were wrongfully held behind bars. Now, they have two years to try to get that cash.
Over the weekend, Ronnie Sandoval, Carmona's mother and a paralegal who struggled tirelessly to see her son vindicated--you can read all about his Kafkaesque journey through OC's justice system here, here and here--had sent out a massive flurry of emails asking everyone she knew to fax Schwarzenegger, asking him to sign the bill. She learned the good news this morning.
"I wasn't hopeful he'd sign it, so I was shocked," Sandoval said. "It's a step in the right
direction. He's acknowledging that there are wrongful prosecutions and his signing the bill shows that there's somebody hearing us." Sandoval added that she hopes to realize Carmona's dream of forming a non-profit group that will provide legal aid, social rehabilitation and job hunting assistance to other wrongfully convicted individuals, and that the passage of the bill has provided her with renewed vigor. "For the governor, signing this bill was just a stroke of the pen," she said. "But for me it's a reason to keep going."