Michigan Supreme Court Hears Case On Expanding Payments For Those Wrongfully Convicted

Wrongful Convictions In Michigan

All 50 states across the country have experience in dealing with people being wrongfully convicted of crimes. The state of Michigan has had its fair share of exonerees that have lost many years of their lives sitting in prison for crimes they did not commit. Some of these men have spent in excess of twenty years waiting for their moment for the truth to come out as well as the freedom that comes with that truth.

One such example of these cases is the case of Davontae Sanford, a man who pled guilty to the killing of four men when he was 14 years old 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 stated that her son only confessed to the murders to please the police officers who had been interrogating him.

The Current Law On Payments

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. Sanford was paid $408,000 for his time in state prison, but now is also seeking an additional $27,000 for the nearly 200 days he spent in a juvenile detention center awaiting trial. Sanford’s attorney argues that since defendants get credit for time held in detention before they are convicted, the same credit should apply for payments for wrongful convictions. Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack stated to Sanford’s attorney that “the logic of your argument is easy to understand” in assessing the merits of the case. Chief Justice McCormack spent time at the University of Michigan Law School innocence project helping to free those who were wrongfully convicted just like Mr. Sanford. Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra had a different take by asking “when its pre-conviction, is that detention wrongful?” This approach would be an effort to interpret a person’s wrongful conviction timeline starting at the point of the actual conviction whether by trial or plea. People are routinely held in jail for months or even years while awaiting trials.

What’s Next?

The Michigan Supreme Court will make a decision on whether to award Sanford the additional money he seeks due to his wrongful convictions. The decision that the court makes will set the standard for what exonerees are entitled to after they are released from prison. This decision will likely affect almost every exoneree case from here forward as almost all people spending time in prison for serious offenses have spent at least some time in pretrial detention.
Even getting this far is a big win for exonerees and their attorneys, who are usually volunteers from law school innocence projects. The law on payments was not perfectly drafted admitted Assistant Attorney General Chris Allen during the arguments before the Supreme Court justices. The state’s main contention is that they only believe they are only entitled to pay what the statute says that they can. The decision the justices make will clear up this issue going forward and could possibly even lead to other reform as other exonerees make their way out of prison.

Any Further Questions?

If you or a loved one has been wrongfully convicted of a crime, 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 conviction 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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