The Michigan House today unanimously approved state Rep. Steve Johnson’s plan to ensure those who have been exonerated of a crime would receive the compensation due to them from the state.
Johnson’s plan would benefit exonerated Michiganders such as Richard Phillips – who spent more than 45 years in prison after a wrongful conviction, then returned to society with no support system to help him get back on his feet. Dozens of other Michigan residents could be in similar situations because the state’s fund for compensating wrongfully convicted individuals is about out of money.
“The fund is essentially bankrupt, and we have an obligation to ensure people like Richard Phillips receive the compensation they are lawfully due,” Johnson, of Wayland, said after the House approved his plan to add $10 million to the fund. “I am glad to see the bipartisan support needed to right this wrong and ensure this fund has reliable, adequate funding well into the future.”
In 2016, the Michigan Wrongful Compensation Act was signed into law. The fund is supposed to award an individual exonerated of a wrongful conviction with $50,000 for each year unjustly spent in prison. But the fund currently has less than $500,000, which will likely be totally depleted upon the first few claims by exonerated prisoners.
Phillips is awaiting an expected payment from the state after serving time for a murder he didn’t commit. Wayne County officials dismissed charges against him in 2018.
The 72-year-old has sold artwork and scrambled to stay afloat financially after decades in prison.
“After 47 years, everything was gone. I didn’t even have identification,” Phillips told the House Appropriations Committee recently. “And then I didn’t have any support. So when I got out…I pretty much had to go it alone. I hadn’t done anything wrong to deserve that kind of treatment. I was a citizen, just like any of you. So don’t think that it can’t happen to anybody – because it can. I’ve lived through it.”
Johnson’s bill directs $10 million from the general fund to cover the Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Fund shortfall until next year’s budget is finalized. The measure also ensures that the Legislature receives regular reports about pending claims and the balance of the fund to prevent future shortfalls.
House Bill 4286 advances to the Senate for further consideration.