We further acknowledge that the categorical approach barring anyone who has pled guilty for compensation may produce results that seem unattractive. A person who pled guilty based in part on a confession later found to be coerced cannot seek compensation, while a codefendant who similarly confessed and was convicted at trial would be eligible for compensation. A person charged with first-degree murder but who pleads guilty to a lesser included offense in order to avoid a life sentence and is later exonerated by DNA evidence would be ineligible. Or as in the case of Curtis McGhee, a person who has been incarcerated for a long time under a vacated conviction but is offered the prospect of immediate release in exchange for an Alford plea is not eligible for compensation. See Gross, 95 J.Crim. L. & Criminology at 537–38 (discussing the Curtis McGhee case).
The above difficulties have led the drafters of various model wrongful imprisonment statutes to decline to categorically bar persons who plead guilty. Many academic commentators agree. See Bernhard, Justice Still Fails, 52 Drake L.Rev. at 721; Natapoff, Negotiating Accuracy at 16 (urging amendment of the “master list of wrongful conviction causes” to include plea bargaining).
Although there are substantial arguments that a guilty plea should not disqualify a claimant from seeking compensation for wrongful imprisonment in all instances, we conclude—based on the language of the statute, the ability of the legislature to use qualifying language in other statutes related to exoneration, the nature of a guilty plea, the lack of a record generated in guilty plea cases, and the potential fiscal impact—that the legislature made a different judgment in 1997. Our job is to do the best we can in interpreting the meaning of legislation. We do not expand the scope of legislation based upon policy preferences. See Nicoletto, 845 N.W.2d at 426; State v. Wedelstedt, 213 N.W.2d 652, 656–57 (Iowa 1973).
In balancing all the considerations, we think the best interpretation of Iowa Code section 663A.1(1)(b ) is that it categorically excludes all persons who plead guilty from Iowa's wrongful imprisonment statute. This interpretation leads to a narrow but not impractical or absurd result. As we have stated before, if we have missed the mark, the legislature may respond to correct it. Rathje, 745 N.W.2d at 463. We thus conclude that Rhoades is not entitled to pursue a claim for wrongful imprisonment under Iowa Code section 663A. As a result, the district court properly dismissed his claim.
....An exoneration happens, on average, every three days in America, a record high. While it is impossible to know how many innocents are languishing behind bars, according to the Innocence Project, studies estimate that between 2.3 percent and 5 percent of all prisoners in the United States did not commit the crimes of which they have been accused -- tens of thousands of people. However, formerly incarcerated people, including exonerees, will tell you they believe the actual number is significantly higher....
....But while exoneration marks a new beginning for those who were unjustly convicted, life on the outside can also be fraught with difficulty. There is no infrastructure or aftercare to help exonerees come to terms with all they have suffered, to teach them how to patch together their shattered lives. The lack of support for those wrongfully convicted is an issue that has long been overlooked by the media, which tend to focus on the multimillion-dollar lawsuits won by a very few. Little is known about how exonerated prisoners struggle to rebuild the lives and the livelihoods they have lost. Indeed, release from prison is not the victory it is often perceived to be. It is not the end of the story. It is simply a new chapter.
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