Proposed law: Pay exonerated prisoners


LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A proposed law making its way through the state legislature would provide at least $60,000 for every year a person is found to have been wrongfully imprisoned.

Senate Bill 98, known as the “Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act,” aims to streamline the process of compensating prisoners who often end up hiring attorneys and suing municipalities.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Steven Bieda (D-Warren) has made it past the Senate Judiciary Committee. A version now awaits a vote of the full Senate.

It’s not clear when or if Senate leadership will bring the bill up for a vote. If it passes the Senate, it will go to the House of Representatives for consideration and then the governor.

The proposed law would not help those who have already been awarded payouts equal to or greater than the amount the law would provide.

Larry Souter knows the struggle exonerated prisoners face.

He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison after being convicted of murdering a 19-year-old woman. The federal court of appeals overturned his conviction amid allegations that police withheld readily available evidence and testimony that would have proved Souter’s innocence. He was freed in 2005.

Souter received a settlement, but would not disclose to 24 Hour News 8 how much money he was awarded. Senate Bill 98 would not help him, but he knows what it would mean to others who have gone through the same experience he did.

“I do honestly feel that when somebody walks up out of there, out of a place where they shouldn’t be to begin with, I think they should be compensated with something,” Souter said. “It is a struggle when you walk up out of there.”

Souter’s attorney is a former federal prosecutor. He says the bill is a ‘no-brainer.’

“I am very much in favor of people who are truly, actually innocent getting something,” John Smietanka said, adding that he doesn’t think exonerated criminals should be forced to fight to win lawsuits. “It’s something that we owe them.”

“That’s not coddling to give them something to get their lives going again,” he added.

A fiscal analyst reports that 34 people in Michigan have been exonerated since 1989.

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Online:

Read the bill (pdf)

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