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Michigan Supreme Court Rules Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act Does Not Allow Recovery For Pretrial Detention

by | Jul 24, 2020 | Civil Litigation |


On July 23, 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court issued its opinion in Sanford v Michigan, __ Mich __ ; __ NW2d __ (2020)(Docket No. 159636) and ruled that the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act does not permit an exonerated prisoner to recover for the period of incarceration before the conviction, despite the fact that he was wrongfully found guilty of a crime.

Davontae Sanford, at age 15, plead guilty to four counts of second-degree murder and one count of felony-firearm related to a high-profile quadruple homicide in Detroit.  He was sentenced by the Wayne County Circuit Court in 2008 to concurrent terms of 37 to 90 years in prison for the murder convictions and an additional consecutive 2-year term for the felony firearm.  He received 198 days of credit for the time spent in the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility.  In 2015, the investigation was reopened when another person confessed to committing the crimes and this led to the prosecutor stipulating to vacate all convictions.  Mr. Sanford was released in 2016, after spending 8 years and 61 days in prison.

On July 27, 2017, Mr. Sanford filed suit under the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) in the Court of Claims seeking compensation for his incarceration due to a false conviction.  WICA provides that, for a prisoner wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, the court shall award “$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.”  MCL 691.1755(2)(a).  “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.”  Id.  The State of Michigan admitted that Mr. Sanford was entitled to $408,356.16 under the statute in compensation for being incarcerated for 8 years and 61 days.  However, the parties disputed whether Mr. Sanford was entitled to $27,124.02 for the 198 days spend in local detention.  The Court of Claims held that Mr. Sanford was entitled to the $408,356.16, but was not entitled to any money for the time spent in local detention per statute.  The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed.  Mr. Sanford appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing that WICA is a remedial statute and should be liberally construed to include all incarceration related to the wrongful conviction.

The Michigan Supreme Court agreed with the State of Michigan and found that WICA does not compensate Mr. Sanford for the time spent in detention before his conviction.  Since the conviction has not yet occurred, the “wrong” does not extend to his time waiting for his trial to happen.  WICA specifically creates a claim for individuals who are “convicted . . . and subsequently imprisoned.”  MCL 691.1753.  A plaintiff is required to show the trial court that he or she was “convicted,” “sentenced to a term of imprisonment,” and served part of “the sentence,” which all together clearly envisions imprisonment subsequent to a conviction.  MCL 691.1755(1)(a).  All explicit provisions of WICA refer to imprisonment occurring after a conviction, demonstrating that the Michigan Legislature did not intend for any compensation related to preconviction detention.  Finally, WICA does not provide any compensation whatsoever for individuals who were in local detention but they were subsequently acquitted of the charges at trial or otherwise released without a conviction.  The Michigan Supreme Court opined that, “[w]hile it is unfortunate that plaintiff spent any time in detention before his wrongful conviction, a reading of the WICA in its entirety reveals that the Legislature did not intend to hold the state accountable to plaintiff for his preconviction detention.”  Slip op. at 11.  As a result, the original verdict of $408,356.16 by the Court of Claims is affirmed.

If you were wrongfully convicted of a crime, subsequently exonerated and later released from prison, you may have a claim for monetary compensation against the State of Michigan for the years of your life that were lost forever.  However, do not hesitate to act as you have strict time deadlines to file.  Currently, Michigan law requires newly exonerated individuals to file their claims within 3 years or their claims will be forfeited forever.  If you believe you have a claim, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.


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