Whether you qualify for compensation under this statute is established by the legislature and courts have interpreted these requirements fairly strictly. Having a firm familiar with the statute and the process is critical in both the exploration stage and moving forward in proving your claim. Currently, we are among a small number of firms that have been successful under this statute. In the short time this law has been around, our firm has successfully won monetary awards totaling nearly $500,000.
Because any claim for compensation is directly tied to the statute, let's explore the critical pieces including the definitions used, the procedure for filing a claim and the evidence used to prove you qualify for compensation. You can find more information about the specific amounts of compensation here.
(1) Any person convicted in superior court and subsequently imprisoned for one or more felonies of which he or she is actually innocent may file a claim for compensation against the state.
(2) For purposes of this chapter, a person is:
(a) "Actually innocent" of a felony if he or she did not engage in any illegal conduct alleged in the charging documents; and
(b) "Wrongly convicted" if he or she was charged, convicted, and imprisoned for one or more felonies of which he or she is actually innocent.
(3)(a) If the person entitled to file a claim under subsection (1) of this section is incapacitated and incapable of filing the claim, or if he or she is a minor, or is a nonresident of the state, the claim may be filed on behalf of the claimant by an authorized agent.
(b) A claim filed under this chapter survives to the personal representative of the claimant as provided in RCW 4.20.046.
What does this mean? The most important part of the statute, and currently one of the most heavily litigated, is that the person must actually be innocent of the crime they were imprisoned for. This means that the conviction cannot be overturned for some technical reason or because of some other issue which doesn't actually exonerate the person as innocent. In short, you must actually be innocent of the crime you were imprisoned for in order to qualify for a claim of compensation. We will explore this in more detail below under RCW 4.100.040.
Finally, the other important piece of this legislation is that it allows for certain other persons to bring this suit on behalf of the wrongly convicted person if they are incapacitated and incapable of filing the claim, or if they are a minor, or non-resident of the state. In addition, death of the wrongly convicted person does not bar a suit, but rather survives as an estate claim made by their personal representative. As will be seen in the compensation section, the legislature intended this statute to not only make the wrongly convicted person whole, but also assist in their familiar responsibilities.
(1) All claims under this chapter must be filed in superior court. The venue for such actions is governed by RCW 4.12.020.
(2) Service of the summons and complaint is governed by RCW 4.28.080.
This part of the statute explains that a claim for compensation must be filed in Superior court in the county where the conviction occurred. It also explains the process for serving the summons and complaint. Although service seems like a trivial event, it is actually very important as failure to properly serve the summons and complaint will prevent the claim from moving forward.
(1) In order to file an actionable claim for compensation under this chapter, the claimant must establish by documentary evidence that:
(a) The claimant has been convicted of one or more felonies in superior court and subsequently sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and has served all or part of the sentence;
(b)(i) The claimant is not currently incarcerated for any offense; and
(ii) During the period of confinement for which the claimant is seeking compensation, the claimant was not serving a term of imprisonment or a concurrent sentence for any crime other than the felony or felonies that are the basis for the claim;
(c)(i) The claimant has been pardoned on grounds consistent with innocence for the felony or felonies that are the basis for the claim; or
(ii) The claimant's judgment of conviction was reversed or vacated and the charging document dismissed on the basis of significant new exculpatory information or, if a new trial was ordered pursuant to the presentation of significant new exculpatory information, either the claimant was found not guilty at the new trial or the claimant was not retried and the charging document dismissed; and
(d) The claim is not time barred by RCW 4.100.090.
(2) In addition to the requirements in subsection (1) of this section, the claimant must state facts in sufficient detail for the finder of fact to determine that:
(a) The claimant did not engage in any illegal conduct alleged in the charging documents; and
(b) The claimant did not commit or suborn perjury, or fabricate evidence to cause or bring about the conviction. A guilty plea to a crime the claimant did not commit, or a confession that is later determined by a court to be false, does not automatically constitute perjury or fabricated evidence under this subsection.
(3) Convictions vacated, overturned, or subject to resentencing pursuant to In re: Personal Detention of Andress, 147 Wn.2d 602 (2002) may not serve as the basis for a claim under this chapter unless the claimant otherwise satisfies the qualifying criteria set forth in RCW 4.100.020 and this section.
(4) The claimant must verify the claim unless he or she is incapacitated, in which case the personal representative or agent filing on behalf of the claimant must verify the claim.
(5) If the attorney general concedes that the claimant was wrongly convicted, the court must award compensation as provided in RCW 4.100.060.
(6)(a) If the attorney general does not concede that the claimant was wrongly convicted and the court finds after reading the claim that the claimant does not meet the filing criteria set forth in this section, it may dismiss the claim, either on its own motion or on the motion of the attorney general.
(b) If the court dismisses the claim, the court must set forth the reasons for its decision in written findings of fact and conclusions of law.
RCW 4.100.040 is an important section of this statute. There is a lot to go through here so lets take it step by step:
(1)(a) requires that the person was wrongly convicted and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and actually served all or some of that imprisonment time.
(1)(b)(i) requires that the claimant not be currently in jail or prison for any offense. Thus, one cannot bring a claim while still imprisoned.
(1)(b)(ii) states that a person is ineligible to collect for a claim of wrongful conviction (and thus imprisonment) if the time they served in custody ran concurrent with incarceration time on a different offense that the person was not wrongfully convicted for. The reason for this is that the harm the legislature is attempting to fix or compensate for is the time a person spent incarcerated for a crime they did not commit. If you are serving your time concurrent with another crime you did commit, then you would already be serving that time and thus there is no harm. The law provides other avenues to clear or clean up your record of the wrongfully convicted crime but this statute is not that avenue.
Next, the statute defines the ways a person can be found "wrongfully convicted" as a basis for compensation under this statute.
(1)(c)(i) applies to a person pardoned consistent with innocence. (Note: the language here mirrors other sections of this statute that require actual innocence and not innocence on more technical grounds.
(1)(c)(ii) applies to cases where the conviction is overturned or a new trial is granted based on new evidence. If a new trial is ordered, the person must be found not guilty. (Note: This section reflects the motive behind the origin of this statute, the rising number of cases where individuals were being exonerated based on new DNA tests or witnesses recanting their testimony)
(1)(d) requires that the claim not be barred by the statutory set statute of limitations, which is three years from the time the person is granted a pardon, granted judicial relief, or release of custody. If you were wrongfully convicted before July 28, 2013, you may commence an action under this chapter within three years after July 28, 2013.
It is important to note the use of the word "and" after each subsection, thus, a person must meet all the requirements of a, b, c, and d in order to qualify. How does one prove this? Documentary evidence of the above requirements is usually accomplished through certified Dept. of Correction (DOC) records.
Next, the person must also meet the requirements of Section 2. This section doubles down on the fact that the legislature intends this statute to apply to and compensate individuals who were, in fact, innocent. Subsection 3 is important as it does not immediately disqualify a person who entered guilty plea. This is of critical importance as most criminal charges will end in a plea deal that often mitigates the risk to the defendant, pleading to a lesser charge or less jail time, rather than fighting the charge and risking significant jail time if they lose. Thus, if newly discovered evidence can exonerate a person, the mere fact that they plead guilty does not bar them from compensation under this statute.
Section 3 rejects convictions that have been vacated, overturned or subject to re-sentencing unless they can meet the other necessary requirements. This one is difficulty to explain simply and is best left to an experienced attorney reviewing your specific situation.
Section 4 requires either the claimant or a representative or agent verify the claim. This is often done with a declaration and supporting documents. Although each case is unique and may require additional evidence to verify the claim.
Section 5 is very important and the reason why you should hire an attorney with experience with this statute because if you can prove all the necessary requirements of the statute, the more likely the Attorney General's (AG) office will concede the claim. If this occurs, the conversation shifts to just proving the amount of compensation. This too can either be agreed to by both parties or may require a judge to decide the amount if the parties cannot agree. Again, having an attorney experienced in the statute and what documents and evidence are required to prove your claim will put you in the best position possible to achieve the correct amount of compensation.
Section 6 sets out the procedures if the AG's office does not concede. Essentially, the matter is brought before a Superior Court judge who decides whether the claimant meets the requirement. Whether a claimant meets the requirements of the statute has been the most hotly contested issue within this statute so far. The AG's office does not concede on all or even most of the claims being brought, unless the claimant can present a clear, cohesive and comprehensive claim that meets the necessary statutory requirements with supporting evidence.
Should the Superior Court judge deny your claim, you have the ability to appeal that decision under RCW 4.100.050.
In addition to this section of the statute, the Compensation section RCW 4.100.060 also outlines the proof required to be entitled to compensation under a claim. To learn more about that section go here.
If you think you may qualify or are interested in having our firm investigate your claim, please give us a call at 253-383-3328 or e-mail us at OFFICE@WILLIAMAWHITELAW.COM.
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Tacoma, WA 98405