Any person convicted in superior court and imprisoned for one or more felonies of which they’re actually innocent can file a claim for compensation against the state. The key part of that sentence is “actually innocent.” Being released from prison on a technicality or other reason that doesn’t exonerate the prisoner is not grounds for a claim.
If the claimant (person filing the claim) is incapacitated and cannot file the claim, or if they’re a minor or a nonresident of the state, they can name someone to act as their agent and file the claim for them. Similarly, if the person eligible to make a claim has died, that person’s estate can file the claim.
What Are the Criteria for Filing a Wrongful Imprisonment Claim?
The following are the criteria for the evidence that someone is eligible to file for a claim:
- The claimant was convicted of at least one felony in superior court, sentenced to prison, and served all or part of the prison term.
- They aren’t currently in prison for any offense.
- When they were wrongfully imprisoned, it wasn’t for any crime other than the felony or felonies related to the claim.
- They’ve been exonerated and found innocent of the felony they were previously convicted of, either through pardon, reversed conviction, or a new trial.
- The claim isn’t time-barred by Washington State laws.
- The claimant didn’t commit perjury or manufacture evidence to cause the conviction. Note: A guilty plea to a crime they didn’t commit or a confession later determined by the court to be false isn’t necessarily considered perjury or manufactured evidence.
In our experience, the most important part of this section (and most challenged by the state) is that the claimant didn’t engage in the illegal conduct alleged in the charging document. This often arises in disputed cases where it’s not obvious the claimant is innocent, such as a case where DNA evidence exonerated them or the key witness recanted. While the standard legal approach is “innocent until proven guilty,” this area of law flips the burden to the claimant to prove their innocence.
What are the Steps to File for Wrongful Imprisonment?
The first step is filing a claim in the superior court in the county where the conviction occurred. The process for serving the summons and complaint may sound simple, but failure to properly serve the summons and complaint will prevent the claim from moving forward. This is one reason someone who wants to explore a wrongful imprisonment claim should retain an experienced lawyer. If not done properly, the ability to claim proper compensation for a wrongful conviction could be lost.
Let Us Advise You
Call us at 253-383-3328 for more information about who can file a wrongful imprisonment claim.