In the US, people wrongly convicted of crimes spend on average fourteen years behind bars before their release. For example, Donya Davis, a 28-year-old from Lansing, MI, was relatively lucky after having to spend only seven years in prison before DNA testing showed that he was wrongly convicted of rape.
Unfortunately for Mr. Davis, Michigan is among the minority of states that do not compensate people for the time they spent in jail after a wrongful conviction. But the proposed House Bill 4536 would give justice to people who were mistakenly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
Michigan Might Compensate the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration
HB 4536’s central proposal is to provide people like Mr. Davis with $60,000 per year of wrongful incarceration in addition to economic damages and attorney’s fees. Economic damages refer to lost wages and diminished career opportunities that result from the jail sentence and the stigma of a conviction.
The people seeking compensation would need to show that they were wrongly convicted, were not guilty, and spent time in prison. The successful applicants for compensation would have to agree to waive their right to sue the state for damages.
HB 4536 was approved by the house judicial community after a unanimous vote in June, but has not yet been signed into law. While similar bills have stalled on the house floor, activists are confident that HB 4536 will have a better outcome.
Does Michigan Have the Funds to Offer Compensation?
Some lawmakers are concerned that HB 4536 may be little more than a symbolic gesture because of Michigan’s tight budget. Senator Steve Bieda estimates that the compensation program could cost the state up to $15 million a year because of the backlog of people awaiting compensation.
But once the backlog would clear, it seems the program would become sustainable—especially since the state would end up saving on the costs of incarcerating the people it wrongly convicted. It is estimated that the state of Michigan spends over $30,000 a year on each inmate.
Compensation is Essential to Reintegration
For Mr. Davis and the fifty or so other inmates who have been exonerated since 1990, getting compensation for the time they spent in jail would give them the tools to ease back into society. Instead, Mr. Davis was given an ID card and four condoms and told to go home. Unable to find a job because of the stigma of his rape trial, he was forced to live in his grandmother’s basement.
It’s time for Michigan to join the majority of states who offer justice to people wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Until then, it is still possible to sue the State of Michigan over wrongful imprisonment—but it’s not easy. At DeBruin Law, we’re committed to helping all of our clients achieve just outcomes when they face the criminal justice system. Lansing criminal defense attorney Tiffany DeBruin is standing by to help you. If you have legal issues, you can call her today at (517) 324-4303 for a free and confidential consultation of your case.