Bills advance to ensure exonerees can sue for compensation

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — Michigan lawmakers advanced bills Tuesday to ensure that 11 wrongfully convicted prisoners can sue for compensation after their cases were dismissed due to a conflict over how long they had to file a claim.

A 2016 law awards innocent inmates $50,000 for each year spent in a state prison. It gave those who had been exonerated before the act’s effective date in 2017 18 months to sue or file notice of their intent to sue.

Nearly a dozen former prisoners, however, saw their claims tossed after the state Court of Claims — where such lawsuits must be brought — ruled that a separate law with a shorter six-month window took precedence over the 18-month cutoff.

The bipartisan bills would allow those inmates to seek compensation totaling nearly $2.7 million, according to the office of state Attorney General Dana Nessel, who supports the legislation.

The three bills were passed unanimously by the Republican-led Senate. The House, which approved similar versions of the legislation in November, could soon send the legislation to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her expected signature.

Michigan’s Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Fund had a balance of $8.1 million in January, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. It said there is enough money to pay the previously dismissed claims.

Two sponsors of the legislation, Democratic Rep. Kyra Bolden of Southfield and Republican Rep. Julie Calley of Portland, said last year that the conflicting timelines went against the intent of the compensation law.

“There’s no question that people who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in Michigan deserve fair compensation to help them get back on their feet,” Calley said.

“A simple error has served as a roadblock with major consequences for the people of our state for far too long,” said Bolden.

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