Wrongful Conviction Attorney
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.
Who can file a claim for compensation
RCW 4.100.020 lays out who can file a claim for compensation as well as defining key words or phrases used later in the statute.
First, 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.
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.
Second, this statute defines who a "person" is as used in the first sentence:
- "Actually innocent" of a felony if he or she did not engage in any illegal conduct alleged in the charging documents; and
- "Wrongly convicted" if he or she was charged, convicted, and imprisoned for one or more felonies of which he or she is actually innocent.
Third, if the person entitled to file a claim under this statute 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. This means that the claim for compensation is still viable even if the claimant falls into one of these categories of persons who are not allowed to file a suit.
Fourth, a claim filed under this chapter survives to the personal representative of the claimant as provided in RCW 4.20.046. This means that the 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.
Procedure for filing of claims
RCW 4.100.030 is the next step in the process. Where do you file your claim and how proper service of the lawsuit is governed.
- All claims under this chapter must be filed in superior court. The venue for such actions is governed by RCW 4.12.020.
- 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. This is one of the reasons why we stress to potential clients the value of hiring an experienced attorney for these types of claims. If not done properly, you could lose out on your ability to claim proper compensation for your wrongful conviction
Criteria to file a claim
RCW 4.100.040 is where the statute gets into the meat and potatoes of filing a wrongful conviction claim. What is the criteria that must be met, what evidence or documents must be provided, and what can get a claim dismissed.
In order to file an actionable claim for compensation under this chapter, the claimant must establish by documentary evidence that:
- 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;
- The claimant is not currently incarcerated for any offense; and
- 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;
- The claimant has been pardoned on grounds consistent with innocence for the felony or felonies that are the basis for the claim; or
- 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
- The claim is not time barred by RCW 4.100.090.
The above section is the first checklist you should review in your search to discover if you have an actionable claim for wrongful conviction. If you don't meet the above requirements, it's more likely that you don't have an actionable claim. However, this is not legal advice so it's always best to consult an experienced wrongful conviction attorney before making any decisions.
Once you've gone through the first checklist, you can move on to the next set of requirements listed below:
In addition to the requirements in the above section, the claimant must state facts in sufficient detail for the finder of fact to determine that:
- The claimant did not engage in any illegal conduct alleged in the charging documents; and
- 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.
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.
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.
If the attorney general concedes that the claimant was wrongly convicted, the court must award compensation as provided in RCW 4.100.060.
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. 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.
In our experience, the most important part of this section, and most challenged by the State, is that the claimant did not engage in any illegal conduct alleged in the charging document. This often arises in disputed cases, where it is not obvious the claimant is innocent, like a case where DNA evidence exonerated them or the key witness recants. What this essentially requires in practice, is the claimant has to prove their innocence. It tends to flip the burden from the State to the claimant. This can manifest itself in a number of different ways and every case is unique and specific.
If you or a loved one meets the above criteria or you believe they do, please schedule a free consultation with our experienced legal team. We will be able to discuss the law, the procedures, and explore your options moving forward including the validity of your claim. Contact Us Today
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 click here.