Case Decided Against Those Seeking Payment for Being Wrongly Convicted

Original Case Details

In Sanford v Michigan, a then 15-year-old Davontae Sanford pled guilty to the killing of four men back in 2007. Police misconduct and the confession of a professional hitman cast serious doubt on the plea from the then-teenager. Sanford spent nine years in prison appealing his wrongful convictions and was released in 2016. Sanford’s mother insisted that the teen could barely read or write back in 2007 and was also blind in one eye. His mother also stated that her son only confessed to the murders to please the police officers who had been interrogating him. Upon his release, he was entitled to money from the state due to his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. In the state of Michigan, a person who is exonerated from a crime is entitled to payments of $50,000 for every year they wrongfully spent behind bars. In the case of Davontae Sanford, his wrongful conviction and imprisonment led to compensation in the amount of just over $408,000 for the 8 years and 61 days that he spent in a state prison. Sanford, However, was seeking more. He was also seeking an additional $27,000 for the nearly 200 days he spent in custody awaiting his trial. He was denied this additional money at the trial court level and at the Michigan Court of Appeals. Sanford appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court who recently issued their decision.

Supreme Court Decision in Sanford v Michigan

In a 4-3 ruling, the Michigan Supreme Court denied Sanford the additional compensation for his pretrial detention. The majority opinion was written by Justice Brian Zahra, and joined by Justices Stephen Markman, David Viviano, and Elizabeth Clement. The main reasoning behind the decision was that the statute in question does not provide compensation for those who are detained and subsequently acquitted or released without conviction. Because the statute that was written to determine and authorize compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment did not include any provision for pretrial detention, the Supreme Court ruled that Sanford was not entitled to additional money. Justice Zahra wrote that the fact that Sanford was in custody before his trial was the result of local decision-making. Chief Justice Bridget Mark McCormack in her dissent stated that Sanford was ‘imprisoned’ every day that he was confined in a facility for a crime that he did not commit and is therefore due compensation for the entire time he was detained both pre and post-conviction. Her dissent was joined by justices Richard Bernstein, and Megan Cavanagh.

What Happens Next?

This decision now sets the law on this issue since it was a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court. The only way this ruling will change is if there is a new statute that is passed, or a different case will give the Michigan Supreme Court a legal reason to revisit this issue in the future. This ruling is a big blow to Sanford and other exonerees that are attempting to be fully compensated for the time that was taken away from them. Unless this case is able to find a way to the United States Supreme Court, then Sanford’s case and this legal issue has been settled. In order to make it to the United States Supreme Court, that court will have to agree to hear the case because it has issues that the Supreme Court wants to address.

Any Further Questions?

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime or being investigated for one, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan. This experience extends not only to adult cases, but also to juvenile charges. We are not a general practice firm. We are a team of criminal defense attorneys; it’s all we do. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge against them or a loved one. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We can also come to you.

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