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Some Excluded From Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Law

Marvin Cotton Jr., a Detroit man who had a murder conviction overturned in 2020, attempted to take advantage of Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA). It offers $50,000 for each year a person is wrongfully imprisoned. The conviction integrity unit in a prosecutor’s office had recommended Cotton’s release after finding that his trial was fundamentally unfair. But in court, rather than agreeing to Cotton’s compensation claim, the Michigan attorney general’s office exercised its right to challenge it, ProPublica reports. It urged the court to reject the claim because it did not fit neatly into the parameters set out by WICA. “You fight for years to prove your wrongful conviction was actually wrong,” Cotton said. “And then immediately, when you step out, you pick up this new war, and you’re constantly trying to prove yourself again.”

Wrongfully convicted people qualify for WICA only if their cases are overturned based on “new evidence” showing that the person was not the perpetrator or an accomplice. And this new evidence must be “clear and convincing.” In practice, that can mean excluding cases undermined by suppressed or insufficient evidence, inadequate legal counsel, official misconduct, shifting science or other reasons why someone can be convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. Advocates have urged the Legislature to update and clarify the law. When disputes over compensation have come before the state Supreme Court, two justices have expressed frustration with WICA. A state commission has also flagged the law for review. The Legislature has yet to do so. The Michigan attorney general’s office said it evaluates claims and challenges them when it doesn’t believe they meet the law’s criteria. At any point, the attorney general’s office can offer a settlement as a compromise. Sen. Stephanie Chang, a Democrat who worked to pass WICA, told ProPublica that she and Democratic Rep. Joey Andrews are going to partner on legislation to address gaps in WICA.


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