WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project Clients Seek Compensation for the Wrongfully Convicted
On Tuesday, Sept. 20, the Michigan House Criminal Justice Committee will consider Senate Bill 291, a law providing compensation for wrongfully convicted Michigan citizens. Senator Steve Bieda (D-Warren) introduced the legislation that will create the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.
“It was my intent to help these individuals who were wrongly convicted re-establish their lives,” said Bieda. “When an individual is proven innocent they should find a state that wants to help them, not another legal battle.”
House Bill 5815, which provides re-entry services to exonerees, will also be heard by the committee. WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and her clients Kenneth Wyniemko and Donya Davis, both exonerees, will be present at Tuesday’s committee hearing to support both bills.
Senate Bill 291 provides compensation to an individual convicted and imprisoned for a crime they did not commit, with damages calculated based upon the number of years of their wrongful incarceration. Thirty states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted.
Mitchell-Cichon is optimistic about SB 291 becoming law. “The Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act has been a long time in the making, she said. “When the state puts an innocent man or woman behind bars, the state has an obligation to financially support the person's reintegration into society. You can never give them back the lost years, but you can do what is just and right.” If voted out of committee, the bill would become law after a favorable vote by the Michigan House of Representatives.
Kenneth Wyniemko was released after nine years in prison and Davis after seven years. In each of their cases, DNA testing was used to prove their innocence. Wynimeko has testified numerous times in support of the proposed law and is a tireless advocate for criminal justice reform.
The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project is part of the Innocence Network, which has been credited with the release of over 344 wrongfully convicted individuals, mainly through the use of DNA testing. WMU-Cooley’s Innocence Project has exonerated three men: Wyniemko, Davis, and Nathaniel Hatchett.
Hearings on the two bills will begin at 9 a.m. before the Michigan House Criminal Justice Committee, Room 327, House Office Building, 124 N. Capitol Avenue, Lansing, Michigan.
The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project began its operation in May 2001 as a law school clinic. Operating under Michigan’s post-conviction DNA testing law, MCL 770.16, the Project's dual mission is to secure the release of persons who are wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit and to provide its students with an invaluable learning experience. It is the only DNA-focused project in the state.
About Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School: Western Michigan University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School affiliated in 2014, combining the status of a nationally-ranked, public, comprehensive research university with the commitment to practical legal education of an independent, non-profit, national law school. WMU-Cooley is accredited by both the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. The law school has provided nearly 20,000 graduates with the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world, and enrolls classes in January, May, and September at its Lansing, Auburn Hills, and Grand Rapids, Michigan campuses, and its Tampa Bay, Florida campus. WMU and the law school continue to operate as independent institutions with their own governance structure and separate fiduciary responsibilities.