New Jersey Man Exonerated of Rape Denied Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Because He Didn't Apply for It in Time

A New Jersey man who spent almost 30 years fighting to prove he was innocent of a rape he didn't commit has been denied compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

Dion Harrell is not entitled to the $50,000 a year provided by the Compensations for Persons Mistakenly Imprisoned Act as he didn't apply for it within two years of getting out of prison, a panel of appellate judges ruled Tuesday.

Harrell served four years in prison and almost 20 years on the sex offender registry for a 1988 rape before being exonerated in 2016, according to The Innocence Project.

The DNA analysis that cleared Harrell wasn't available when he went to trial in Monmouth County in 1992, his attorney Glenn Andrew Garber argued.

Garber told the Ashbury Press that when Harrell was freed on parole in 1997, access to DNA testing was limited to inmates looking to prove their innocence. The state only made it available to freed convicts in 2015, he said.

The newspaper reported that, even then, Harrell's request to turn over the DNA evidence for testing was first rejected before being analyzed.

Harrell's conviction was vacated on August 3, 2016—and he filed his claim for compensation within the two-year limit on August 1, 2018, according to the Press.

Nevertheless, the judges wrote in their decision that the law is clear that the statute of limitations starts when the person is released from prison.

The judges rejected the claim as "they [Harrell and Garber] effectively request that we rewrite a clear and unambiguous statute and ignore the Legislature's clear manifestation that claims like Harrell's must be filed within two years 'after his release from imprisonment' or 'after the grant of a pardon.'"

They also rejected the claim for compensation because Harrell had been handed a consecutive sentence for an unrelated burglary and therefore would have spent four years in prison for that offense regardless of the outcome of the rape case.

Harrell had also claimed $25,000 a year for every year he had to register as a sex offender, according to the Press. But attorneys for New Jersey's Treasury Department said he was not eligible for any compensation related to that as he violated the requirements of being on the registry under Megan's Law.

Harrell was sentenced to eight years in prison after a 17-year-old girl was raped in Long Branch on September 18, 1988. He was found guilty of second-degree sexual assault on May 19, 1992.

The Innocence Project agreed to take the case in 2013 and sought DNA testing of the evidence, including the rape kit, according to the group's website.

Both Garber and The Innocent Project have been contacted for comment.

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Stock photo. A New Jersey man exonerated of rape has been denied wrongful imprisonment compensation because he didn't apply for it in time. Getty
New Jersey Man Exonerated of Rape Denied Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Because He Didn't Apply for It in Time | U.S.