Wrongfully imprisoned man is finally free — but ineligible for nearly $2 million in state compensation. Why?

Robert DuBoise, freed from prison after 37 years, hugs his mother moments after his release. Credit: Innocence Project

Despite being wrongfully imprisoned on rape and murder charges for 37 years, Robert DuBoise, proved innocent by DNA evidence and fully exonerated on Tuesday, is not eligible for state compensation.

That’s because he had two prior felonies when he was 17 — considered non-violent property crimes.

Florida law allows wrongfully convicted people to be compensated by up to $50,000 for each year they were behind bars for crimes they did not commit. That would make DuBoise, now 55, eligible for more than $1.8 million of compensation.

Instead, Florida’s “clean hands” provision blocks compensation for a wrongfully convicted person who already had more than one felony on his or her record.

Teresa Hall, supervising attorney at the conviction review unit in Hillsborough County, worked with the Innocence Project to unearth 37-year-old proof that DuBoise was innocent. Credit: 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office

Attorneys for DuBoise described the felonies as non-violent property crimes – burglary (by entering an unlocked, vacant home) and grand theft (possession of stolen bicycles worth more than $300) – committed when he was 17 and for which he was sentenced to probation.

At the age of 18, he was convicted of raping and murdering Barbara Grams based on now-discredited bite-mark evidence and testimony from a jailhouse informant, also since discredited. Overlooked DNA evidence unearthed in a review of his conviction proved he was not Grams’ attacker.

Details of DuBoise’s offenses at age 17 could not be readily verified because files from 1982 are hard to access, according to court officials in Hillsborough County, where DuBoise was convicted in 1983 and was exonerated on Tuesday. The national Innocence Project, a legal-aid organization, and the conviction-review unit established by the 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office in 2018 collaborated to investigate and overturn the conviction.

According to the  Innocence Project, only five of the 31 wrongfully convicted Floridians exonerated since 2008 have been awarded state compensation.

The majority are disqualified despite having been proved innocent because of the clean-hands provision or because they were unavailable to file for compensation in time to meet the tight deadline.

Two exonerations covered by the Florida Phoenix are cases in point:

Clifford Williams, wrongfully convicted of murdering a Jacksonville woman, was imprisoned for 43 years before the Innocence Project of Florida, an affiliate of the Innocence Project, collaborated with prosecutors to prove him innocent. Williams was ineligible for compensation due to the clean-hands provision. It took a special act of the 2020 Legislature to award him $2.15 million anyway.

Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin, also assisted by Innocence Project of Florida, was wrongfully imprisoned for 14 years for a murder he did not commit.

The Florida Supreme Court vacated his conviction in 2016, triggering a 90-day deadline to file for compensation, but the prosecutor in his case demanded a retrial, keeping him behind bars for another two years.

By the time Seminole County State Attorney Phil Archer, now president of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, dismissed charges against Aguirre-Jarquin in 2018, the deadline to seek compensation was long expired.

A special bill of the Legislature was filed on Aguirre-Jarquin’s behalf in 2020 but did not pass.

Bipartisan legislation last spring by Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Bobby DuBose to extend the compensation filing deadline to two years and to eliminate the clean-hands provision failed to pass.