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Michigan Looks To Fix Flaws In Fund For Wrongfully Convicted

A bill moving through the Michigan House of Representatives would fix flaws in a 7-year-old compensation fund that the state set up to help wrongfully convicted people rebuild their lives. The legislation would be the first substantive reform of the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act’s eligibility requirements. If it becomes law, many people who would otherwise be denied compensation would become eligible for relief, ProPublica reports. “This is going to be huge for a lot of people,” said Kenneth Nixon, co-founder and president of the nonprofit Organization of Exonerees, who spent nearly 16 years in prison before his conviction was vacated. WICA, passed in 2016, was intended as a lifeline for people who experienced extreme injustice by offering $50,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment. But, as a ProPublica investigation detailed in January, the bipartisan law’s narrow requirements have resulted in delays in compensation, partial settlements or even complete denials.


Only people whose cases are overturned based on “clear and convincing” new evidence that they weren’t a perpetrator or an accomplice have been eligible for WICA compensation, a higher standard of proof than for other civil claims. This has meant that some former prisoners — for instance, those whose convictions were overturned for insufficient evidence — can be left out. In Charles Perry’s case, which ProPublica highlighted, judges acknowledged that there was new evidence of innocence, but because his conviction was officially overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective counsel, he got nothing. Michigan has had 173 wrongful convictions in state courts since 1989, the fifth-most in the country, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. After an average of nearly 11 years in prison, many of these individuals are released with no home, no job prospects, no transportation and no resources to navigate trauma. For years, advocates, a state commission and even some state Supreme Court justices have urged the Legislature to revisit the law. “I don’t like administering legal rules that I can’t explain to the people they impact,” wrote one justice in a concurring statement in Perry’s case. “Please fix it, legislators.”

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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