‘They lost all those years of earnings:’ Duke Law attorney explains NC’s pardon process

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — In front of a group of supporters Friday outside the state capitol building, Dontae Sharpe made it clear.

“I’m not begging for it. I’m not pleading for it,” he said firmly.

Sharpe wants to be issued a full pardon after being wrongfully convicted of murder. He spent more than 25 years in prison.

“The notion that you have to politic for a pardon of innocence in order to get the state to make right the harm that was caused to you is a tough thing to wrap your mind around,” stated Jamie Lau.

Lau is the supervising attorney with Duke Law Wrongful Convictions Clinic. His office represents Sharpe and Ronnie Long.

Long served nearly 44 years in prison. He was exonerated and was eventually pardoned back in December.

“The process that occurs is that the governor has a clemency office. The clemency office oversees the applications for the governor to exercise his clemency power,” Lau explained.

Lau says it starts with a request. Which is a letter and letters of support.

“Once that’s filed with the governor’s clemency office it becomes a black box. All you hear is, it’s being considered,” he said.

From there, it could take years to get approved.

In North Carolina, a person who gets a pardon is eligible for $50,000 for each year they were in prison. up to $750,000 total.

“They lost all those years of earnings. All those years of experience,” mentioned Lau.

In May, House Bill 877 was introduced in hopes of making the process more seamless.

“That would provide the opportunity for a person to go in front of a court and to show a court their innocence. then the court would enter an order to trigger compensation,” Lau explained.

“There are so many barriers to successfully overcoming the harm that has been caused by your wrongful conviction. at least we can provide enough to secure housing, food, and the necessities of life,” he said.

Lau said HB877 did not make the crossover deadline this session, but he’s optimistic lawmakers will make changes to the pardon process sooner than later.

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