Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Bill Update I

A revised version of the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act bill has been given to the full Michigan Senate by the Judiciary Committee.

[I will probably take out this paragraph.] This bill is long overdue and unfortunately it has some major deficits. Whether it is best to pass the bill as is and then amend it or better to not support the bill until the changes are first made or somewhere in between, is a political strategy question, and one which we choose not to weigh in on.

[I should probably also talk about the bill's strengths, but right now that feels artificial.]  We believe that most of the problems with the bill are based on misunderstandings. Good laws are based on good and accurate information. Tell your legislator that you support the concept of compensation for the wrongly imprisoned, but in the process educate your them about the misunderstandings resulting in its diminished effectiveness. Don't assume they understand the following:

  1. Misunderstanding: By only covering DNA exonerees, we can be certain we won't be compensating felons who get off based on a technicality.
    1. When a person's conviction is overturned by a legal technicality, the courts do not declare the person innocent, only that they cannot be found guilty. When a person is exonerated in a Michigan court, the court is saying more than they are not guilty. The court is saying they are actually innocent. An exonerated person is in a completely different legal category from someone merely declared not to be guilty.
    2. Consequently, it is not necessary for the bill to cover only one type of evidence and should be corrected to cover all exonerations. Legally, one cannot even refer to a "DNA exoneration". There are only "exonerations", and there is no rational justification for a bill which compensates some exonerees (less than 1/3) and excludes other exonerees.
  2. Misunderstanding: If the bill allows the estate of a deceased exoneree to receive compensation, all kinds of "relatives" will try to cash in.
    1. When a person is wrongfully convicted, he/she is not the only one wronged. In most cases, a family's main bread winner has been taken from them for years, depriving them of financial and emotional support that would otherwise have been there. They, too, are innocent victims. If, tragically, the exoneree passes away, they deserve his/her compensation all the more.
    2. The state should not cut off all compensation to heirs of a deceased exoneree because of the need to micro manage against a miniscule possibility of abuse.
    3. Consequently, the provision excluding the estate of exonerees from receiving this compensation should be taken out of the bill.
  3. Misunderstanding: If the bill compensates exonerees, then they have no need for the normal programs available to convicted felons for helping them to adjust back into society (Prisoner Reentry Initiative-PRI). Besides, they aren't felons.
    1. The process under the compensation bill is exactly that, a process, which takes time. No one knows how quickly compensation will be granted, and in order for the exoneree upon their release not to be destitute, they should at least have available to them the programs available to others upon their release.
    2. The programs available to convicted felons upon their release from prison are available immediately and actually begin before their release. Exonerees have lost everything through no fault of their own. They have the same immediate needs. Exonerees are no less deserving of PRI programs, such as employement, job training, counseling, health care, life skills and mentoring. To deny this, adds another intentional slap in the face of the innocent.
    3. Consequently, since the Compensation Act is a process that takes time, a separate bill should be introduced that automatically makes the Michigan PRI programs available to exonerees without the need of the claim process involved in the this act.
  4. Misunderstanding: Regardless whether a judge grants a prisoner an exoneration, if they confessed or took a plea bargain, then they obviously were guilty. After all, why would a person confess to something they never did? They should be excluded from this bill.
    1. It has long been established that due to various reasons, including police intimidation and coersion, innocent people "confess" all the time. There are many articles on our site explaining this. Click here for more information.
    2. When a person who made a confession or a plea is exonerated, you can believe that this has been brought up by the prosecution time after time, fully taken into account and understood by the judge who, in light of these factors, still grants the person an exoneration. If after careful examination the judge still concludes the person is innocent, there is no justification for excluding these people from this compensation because of it.
    3. Consequently, the paragraph barring those who took a plea bargain or made a false confession, should be removed.
  5. Not a misunderstanding, but just plain wrong: The current wording of the compensation act states that if the exoneree obtains compensation from any other person for the wrongful conviction, they are to pay back the State that amount.
    1. This type of thinking removes the spirit of this bill from one of justice and of the state taking ownership for it's mistakes and puts it into the category of simply "paying off" a wronged person and if they get the money from somewhere else, the State doesn't need to pay them that amount. Such thinking is convoluted and can't be justified in any way.

Our Michigan Senators and Representatives need to hear from you! They need to know that no one believes that compensating wrongfully convicted people has anything to do with being "soft on crime". They need to know that Michigan citizens expect their state to be responsible, so we can be proud of the fact that when a mistake is made, we take responsibility for it. After such a wrong has been perpetrated upon an innocent person, the need to correct it cannot be made to disappear by issues of "where does the money come from" and other smoke screens. Those are valid questions of "how?" but have no bearing on "what is the just and right thing to do?".

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