In 2013, Washington became the 28th state to pass a “wrongful conviction” statute.
In passing RCW 4.100, the legislature found that people “imprisoned for crimes they did not commit have been uniquely victimized.” RCW 4.100.010. Despite the harm they suffer, a “majority of those convicted in Washington state have no remedy available under the law for the destruction of their personal lives resulting from errors in our criminal justice system.” RCW 4.100.010.
A claimant must have been convicted of a felony and sentenced to prison. RCW 4.100.040(1)(a). The claimant must also have been in prison only on the charge that he or she was wrongly convicted of—for instance, if the claimant had additional convictions for which he or she was also serving a sentence, he or she is not eligible. RCW 4.100.040(1)(a). The claimant must have finished their prison sentence.
A claimant can show that a conviction was wrongful in two ways. First, a claimant could show that they were “pardoned on grounds consistent with innocence”. RCW 4.100.040(c)(i). The second, and probably more common, way to show a wrongful conviction is to show that the conviction was “reversed or vacated and the charging document dismissed on the basis of significant new exculpatory information . . .” RCW 4.100.040(c).
While showing that your client was pardoned, or had his conviction reversed, is straight-forward, meeting the next element may be more challenging, because you must show that he or she “did not engage in any illegal conduct alleged in the charging documents.” RCW 4,100.040(2)(a). You will likely have trouble meeting this requirement if, for instance, your client’s conviction was reversed because evidence was suppressed. That is, if the potential client had illegal drugs but got the conviction was reversed because of an illegal search, he or she is unlikely to be found “actually innocent.”
If the Attorney General concedes that the claimant was wrongly convicted, “the court must award compensation . . .” RCW 4.100.040(5). An individual receives $50,000 for each year he or she was wrongfully incarcerated and $25,000 for each year on parole, community custody, or as a registered sex offender. RCW 4.100.060(5)(a). Attorney’s fees are limited to ten percent of the claimant’s recovery and capped at $75,000. RCW 4.100.060(5)(e).
In addition to monetary compensation, the state will pay for child support payments missed while in prison, and the state will waive tuition for both the wrongfully convicted person and his or her children. RCW 28B.15. RCW 4.100.060 lists other benefits that come with a successful suit.
Spokane wrongful conviction lawyer Mack Mayo has represented several individuals who were wrongfully convicted of a crime they did not commit, spending years in prison. If you have had your conviction overturned because the Court found that you were actually innocent, feel free to call us at (509) 381-5091 or contact us here.