I’m innocent! This phrase is heard very often but rarely believed. Many people who are convicted will maintain their innocence throughout their trial and, if found guilty, will even maintain their innocence while serving their sentence. The chilling fact is that some people who have been convicted are actually innocent. Unfortunately our legal system is not foolproof and innocent people are wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison. Many attorneys will agree the most worrisome cases they have fought have been those cases where their client was in fact innocent. Over the years, through groups such as the Innocence Project as well as the ACLU, wrongfully convicted and imprisoned persons have successfully litigated their wrongful convictions and received compensation. Now in Washington State there is a new means for wrongfully convicted and imprisoned persons to gain compensation for having their lives stripped away from them.
On July 28th 2013, Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1341 became effective. This bill setup the framework for compensation to those who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Up until this bill a majority of those wrongfully convicted have had no remedy available to them for destruction of their lives and liberty. Being forced to endure prison and the stigma of being a felon is difficult enough for those that committed the crimes but is especially damaging to those who are actually innocent. What this bill allows is those who have been wrongfully convicted and subsequently imprisoned to file a claim for damages. The person must file the claim in the superior court that they were sentenced. The person filing the claim must have been convicted and imprisoned. The person must have either been pardoned by the Governor of the State, or the judgment and sentence was reversed or vacated and the original charging documents was dismissed based on significant new evidence. Additionally if the person claiming compensation has had their case ordered to be retried in court and was later found not guilty they are entitled to file for a claim. The Attorney General handles all claims, if the Attorney General concedes that the person claiming was wrongfully convicted, the court must award compensation. In order to see if you meet these criteria, contact an attorney to see if you may be entitled to a claim.
Compensation for a Wrongful conviction and Imprisonment claim is as follows:
- $50,000.00 for each year of actual confinement including time spent awaiting trial, and an additional $50,000.00 for each year served under a sentence of death.
- $25,000.00 for each year served on parole, community custody, or as a registered sex offender.
- Claimants are also entitled to compensation for child support payments that were missed and accrued interest due to the claimant’s wrongful confinement.
- Reimbursement for all restitution, assessments, fees, court costs, and all other payments or fees ordered by the court.
Attorney’s fee’s outlined in the bill include ten percent of the monetary damages as well as expenses. This figure is limited to $75,000.00. These fees are not to be deducted from the compensation award to the claimant but rather paid in addition to the claimant’s compensation.
In addition to the monetary compensation, the claimant may also be entitled to have the conviction and court record destroyed pursuant to the court rules. The claimant may also take advantage of many reentry programs including but not limited to education, mentoring, job skills training as well as mental health and substance abuse training. Although living through a wrongful conviction can never be fully compensated, this bill also aims to help those wrongfully convicted reenter society with the skills necessary to function in society as well as get back to living a normal life.