Wrongful conviction legislation could mean restitution for innocent

Guest Column By Mitchell Jon MacKay of East Jordan

IT’S BEING CONSIDERED AGAIN: restitution for wrongfully convicted persons of which there is a growing number exonerated but in this state as in roughly half the others no statute exists to compensate those who have wrongfully spent years in prison.

There are some flaws in the bill as written but it’s a major step.


Flaws were outlined in an editorial by the Port Huron Times Herald of Aug. 20.

Confessions suborned and coerced for example can exempt a state from responsibility.

The threefold criterion for financial restitution is criminal conviction, state prison time and actual innocence.

The most poignant comment came as to who is responsible for payment to wrongfully convicted prisoners.

Taxpayers in one way and another are the usual payers whether covered by insurance or taken from county and state taxes.

The real issue comes to who and why are persons wrongfully convicted, whodunit as in cops, prosecutors, mistaken identification, falsified evidence, jailhouse snitches, devious interrogation and false promises for sake of confessions.

There is allowance for this last hurdle in some states.

It is puzzling to some that a person would plead to something s/he didn’t do but this has happened enough to prove a very real syndrome.

Most interrogation has only one goal in mind: confession.

Cops routinely produce confessions already composed with only signing on the dotted line to be accomplished.

Promises of leniency or even freedom have garnered many such signatories.

If police and prosecutors were held liable for money awards bestowed upon exonerated persons it would dramatically alter the methods of investigation, arrest, interrogation, conviction and ultimately sway jury trials and sentencing guidelines.

Being held accountable for wrongful conviction of any means would change everything.

Just one garnisheeing of a cop’s or prosecutor’s paycheck would send shockwaves throughout the entire system.

Those guys would be paying for the rest of their lives for payouts of anywhere from $5000 a year to $28 million one-time payment but the federal government seems to have settled on $50,000 a year for ex-federal prisoners exonerated.

The variation is diverse as to restitution but if it cost cops and courts directly we’d see changes immediately.

Consider careless identification too, jailhouse snitches, all would have to pay for life because they ruined other lives.

We tend to think of justice as just but it is not always so.  Languishing in prison unjustly is probably the worst thing that can happen to a human being short of being brutally murdered.

If cops and prosecutors knew that they can be charged and fined for malfeasance they’d have to change their ways of obtaining convictions.

Yes, charged too if falsified or withheld evidence is involved.

To date these investigators have been granted impunity from indictment.

Even when rarely indicted, juries tend to absolve them through the “collateral damage” clause.

We’ve seen examples wherein police will literally lie under oath about their actions even when confronted with video footage of their misdeeds.

This is endemic to police work. Similarly prosecutors will and have concocted tales based on skimpy evidence and hunches backed with public outcry to atone for evils perpetrated against citizens.

Oft times it matters not who is convicted as long as someone takes a fall and media can report “Case Closed.”

These issues actually happen every day because the “culture” of legal work has evolved this way.

“Technicalities” are largely to blame for this tweaking of the justice system.  When known criminals got off the hook by legal ploys the law got more devious.

As Sun Tzu, master war planner of ancient China said, “Become your enemy” to catch him.

He also said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”.  This is how cops and courts have operated for many decades.

The Freedom Index currently lists the US as #20, Canada #6.  Recent killer cop episodes have undoubtedly plummeted this ranking.

Try imagining being convicted for something you didn’t do, spending years or decades in prison, then being exonerated without benefit of compensation for all those years.

It’s unimaginable but it happens.

The very least this state and others can do is to allow these unfortunates restitution for life, and ideally charge it to the cops and courts that falsely convicted them.