Cooley Innocence Project exonerees to attend Snyder signing ceremony

WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project exonerees will join Gov. Rick Snyder as he signs the Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act during a ceremonial signing today at the Romney Building in Lansing. Wrongfully convicted individuals from across the state will be in attendance for the signing.

For over a decade, state Senator Steve Bieda sponsored legislation to compensate Michigan citizens who have been wrongfully convicted at the hands of the state. Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Bieda, provides $50,000 for each year of incarceration to individuals convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. House Bill 5815, sponsored by state Representative Stephanie Chang, provides for reentry services. The bills, now Public Acts 343 and 344 of 2016, will take effect on March 29, 2017. Michigan joins 31 other states, the District of Columbia and the federal government in providing compensation to the wrongfully convicted.

Exonerees previously received no assistance from the state after their wrongful conviction.

"When the state puts an innocent man or woman behind bars, it has the obligation to support that person's reintegration into society," said WMU-Cooley Innocence Project director Marla Mitchell-Cichon. Under Public Act 344, exonerees will be eligible for the same reentry services that Michigan parolees receive and housing for up to one year following the date of discharge.

Compensation of $50,000 for each year of incarceration will not be automatic. A claimant must file a petition for compensation in the Court of Claims. "I trust the state will approach these claims with integrity and agree to compensation in appropriate cases. The goal is to compensate those individuals who never should have gone to prison in the first place," said Mitchell-Cichon.

Mitchell-Cichon, who advocated for the new laws, plans to attend the signing ceremony with her clients, Kenneth Wyniemko, exonerated in 2003; Nathaniel Hatchett, exonerated in 2008; and Donya Davis, exonerated in 2014.

"These laws are an important first step in supporting Michigan exonerees, but we need to do more," said Wyniemko.

After serving over nine years for a crime that he did not commit, Wyniemko has been a tireless advocate for compensation and criminal justice reform.

"Public Acts 343 and 344 will provide Michigan exonerees with needed services and financial compensation for years lost to a system that failed them," said Mitchell-Cichon.

Published: Tue, Feb 14, 2017