Effort renewed to compensate wrongfully convicted

By Alisha Green
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — A bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers has announced a renewed effort to pass a measure that would provide compensation for people wrongfully convicted of and imprisoned for crimes.

The Senate bill’s sponsor, Warren Democrat Steve Bieda, has been introducing similar legislation since 2005, when he served in the House. His legislation would provide $60,000 in reimbursement for each year of wrongful imprisonment and cover economic damages such as lost wages, attorney fees and medical expenses after release that are related to being imprisoned. Anyone wrongly convicted and imprisoned would have to bring a complaint against the state to receive reimbursement.

“Every so often the justice system gets it wrong,” Bieda said.

Felons receive services from the state such as assistance with job training, housing and other re-entry programs that exonerated people cannot receive, even though they never committed a crime and face the same difficulties entering back into society, Bieda said, adding they are “left to fend for themselves.”

Rep. Stephanie Chang, a Democrat from Detroit and sponsor of the House version of the legislation, said: “Michigan can do better to help those it failed.”

Sen. Rick Jones, a Republican from Grand Ledge and former Eaton County Sheriff, is one of the Senate bill co-sponsors. Though wrongful convictions are rare,
“when it happens the only fair and appropriate thing to do is to make sure there is compensation and get the person back on their feet,” he said.

Several who had been exonerated attended last Thursday’s news conference, including Thomas and Raymond Highers, brothers who served more than 25 years each in prison for a 1987 murder they were cleared of in 2013.

Julie Baumer, who was convicted of child abuse in 2005 and fully exonerated in 2010, said she had “a good life ahead” before she was wrongly convicted, and she’s been struggling to get back to that point.

“I’m still trying to rectify everything I’ve lost,” she said.

Bieda estimated the legislation could initially cost the state around $2 million if approved, depending on the number of people retroactively affected should the measure pass. As introduced, the legislation would cover people exonerated in the past three years.

“There is no amount of compensation that can truly cover what they have been through,” Bieda said.