WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Exonerees Attend Ceremonial Signing of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Law
Wrongfully convicted individuals and their advocates from across the state attended a reception hosted by WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project and the ceremonial signing of the Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder on Feb. 14. Michigan’s exonerees, who now have an opportunity to receive financial compensation and services as a result of the legislation, were also recognized by the state’s House of Representatives.
Exonerees in attendance included Julie Baumer, Macomb County; Nathaniel Hatchett, Macomb County; Tommy Highers, Wayne County; Kenneth Wyniemko, Macomb County; Davontae Sanford, Wayne County; Larry Souter, Newaygo County and Lorinda Swain, Calhoun County.
State Senator Steve Bieda and State Representative Stephanie Chang sponsored the new laws, Public Acts 343 and 344 of 2016, which take effect on March 29, 2017.
Public Act 343 provides $50,000 for each year of incarceration to individuals convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Compensation will not be automatic. A claimant must file a petition for compensation in the Court of Claims. Under Public Act 344, exonerees will be eligible for the same reentry services that Michigan parolees receive and housing for up to one year following the date of discharge.
“When the state puts an innocent man or woman behind bars, it has the obligation to support that person’s reintegration into society,” said WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon. “Both the reentry services and the compensation award will help our clients get back on their feet. No amount of money can make them whole, but it’s a start.”
Mitchell-Cichon, who advocated for the new laws, attended the signing ceremony, with clients Wyniemko, exonerated in 2003; and Hatchett, exonerated in 2008.
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 Cooley Law School: WMU-Cooley Law School resulted from the 2014 affiliation that combined WMU's status as 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 of Colleges and Schools. 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 WMU-Cooley Law School operate as independent institutions with their own governance structure and separate fiduciary responsibilities.