Despite all of the safeguards built into the criminal justice system, innocent people sometimes get convicted and punished for crimes they did not commit. The police and the prosecutor might act on defective evidence, the defense attorney might do a substandard job, or the jury may just get it wrong. A long, unjustified prison sentence will destroy the opportunity to work a meaningful career, raise a family and pursue hopes and dreams. Even after release, the time that was lost can never be recovered. Is there any remedy available for this travesty?
In 2016, the Michigan Legislature passed the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act, Act 343 of 2016. Effective March 29th, 2017, "[a]n individual convicted under the law of this state and subsequently imprisoned in a state correctional facility for 1 or more crimes that he or she did not commit may bring an action for compensation against this state in the court of claims..." MCL 691.1753. The plaintiff may only file suit in the Michigan Court of Claims, not the county circuit court, and must serve the complaint upon the Michigan attorney general and the prosecuting attorney of the county where the plaintiff was convicted. MCL 691.1754(3). If the conviction was for an assaultive crime or a serious misdemeanor, then the victim of that crime has a right to notice by the prosecuting attorney and may appear to participate in these proceedings. MCL 691.1754(4).
The plaintiff is entitled to judgment in the plaintiff's favor under the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act if the plaintiff proves ALL of the following by clear and convincing evidence:
- "The plaintiff was convicted of 1 or more crimes under the law of this state, was sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a state correctional facility for the crime or crimes, and served at least part of the sentence." MCL 691.1755(1)(a).
- "The plaintiff's judgment of conviction was reversed or vacated and either the charges were dismissed or the plaintiff was determined on retrial to be not guilty. However, the plaintiff is not entitled to compensation under this act if the plaintiff was convicted of another criminal offense arising from the same transaction and either that offense was not dismissed or the plaintiff was convicted of that offense on retrial." MCL 691.1755(1)(b).
- "New evidence demonstrates that the plaintiff did not perpetrate the crime and was not an accomplice or accessory to the acts that were the basis of the conviction, results in the reversal or vacation of the charges in the judgment of conviction or a gubernatorial pardon, and results in either dismissal of all of the charges or a finding of not guilty on all of the charges on retrial." MCL 691.1755(1)(c).
If the court finds that the plaintiff was wrongfully convicted and imprisonment, the court shall award compensation as follows:
- "$50,000.00 for each year from the date the plaintiff was imprisoned until the date the plaintiff was released from prison, regardless of whether the plaintiff was released from imprisonment on parole or because the maximum sentence was served. For incarceration of less than a year in prison, this amount is prorated to 1/365 of $50,000.00 for every day the plaintiff was incarcerated in prison." MCL 691.1755(2)(a).
- Reimbursement of any amount awarded and collected by this state under the State Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act (SCFRA), Public Act 254 of 1935 (e.g. cost of care expenses for transportation, room, board, clothing, security, medical and other normal living expenses of prisoners). MCL 691.1755(2)(b).
- Reasonable attorney fees that do not exceed 10% of the total amount awarded or $50,000.00, whichever is less, plus expenses (but may not be deducted from the compensation awarded to the plaintiff). MCL 691.1755(2)(c).
- Entry of a court order providing that "any record of the arrest, fingerprints, conviction, and sentence of the plaintiff related to the wrongful conviction be expunged from the criminal history record." MCL 691.1755(14).
However, compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment is subject to the following conditions:
- "An award of compensation under this act is not a finding of wrongdoing against anyone. An award of compensation under this act is not admissible in evidence in a civil action that is related to the investigation, prosecution, or conviction that gave rise to the wrongful conviction or imprisonment." MCL 691.1755(7).
- "The acceptance by the plaintiff of an award under this act, or of a compromise or settlement of the claim, must be in writing and, unless it is procured by fraud, is final and conclusive on the plaintiff, constitutes a complete release of all claims against this state, and is a complete bar to any action in state court by the plaintiff against this state based on the same subject matter. However, the acceptance by the plaintiff of an award under this act, or of a compromise or settlement of the plaintiff's claim, does not operate as a waiver of, or bar to, any action in federal court against an individual alleged to have been involved in the investigation, prosecution, or conviction that gave rise to the wrongful conviction or imprisonment." MCL 691.1755(8).
- A compensation award is subject to the payment of child support, including arrearages, owed by the plaintiff. MCL 691.1755(11). In addition, a state or local government unit is not impaired from collecting a debt owed to them from the plaintiff's compensation award. MCL 691.1755(12).
The following statute of limitations apply to the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act pursuant to MCL 691.1757:
- An action for compensation under this act must be commenced within 3 years after the date that the plaintiff's judgment of conviction was reversed or vacated and either the charges were dismissed or on retrial the plaintiff was found to be not guilty.
- An individual convicted, imprisoned, and released from custody before March 29th, 2017 must commence an action under this act before September 29th, 2018.
To be entitled to compensation, the plaintiff must be cleared of ALL convictions arising out of the same transaction. In Leaphart v State of Michigan, unpublished opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued April 16, 2019 (Docket No. 343136), the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed an order from the Court of Claims denying plaintiff's claim through summary disposition. The plaintiff pled guilty to possession of heroin and felony-firearm in 1977 and was sentenced to a length prison term. After a remand to the trial court on appeal, the prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss the felony-firearm offense only. Plaintiff subsequently sought compensation in the Court of Claims, but the claim was denied due to the standing conviction for the possession of heroin charge. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed that this is consistent with the plain language of the statute. In sum, a wrongful imprisonment claim depends on a total exoneration for all crimes arising out of the same transaction.
A compensation claim for wrongful imprisonment will require the skill and knowledge of an experienced lawyer to prosecute effectively. You can expect that the State of Michigan will use the full resources at its disposal to avoid egg on its face from this substantial payout. Any misstep or mistake can cause your claim to get dismissed with prejudice. If you believe you are eligible to collect under the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act and need legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.