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Michigan Supreme Court: Parole-Revocation Prison Term Imposed as Result of Separate Wrongful Conviction Is Included in Compensation Under WICA

by Douglas Ankney

The Supreme Court of Michigan held that time served in prison due to revocation of parole that resulted solely from a wrongful conviction of other offenses is not excluded from compensation under the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (“WICA”), MCL 691.1751 et seq.

In 1987, Desmond Ricks began serving concurrent prison sentences for robbery-related convictions. He was paroled on May 30, 1991. On October 12, 1992, Ricks was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for second-degree murder and two years for a felony-firearm conviction. Pursuant to MCL 768.7a(2), the trial court ordered that Ricks’ sentences for the murder and felony-firearm convictions would not begin to run until after he completed the remaining four years and 118 days of his earlier robbery-related convictions, due to his parole revocation based on the murder-related convictions.

After serving the parole-revocation sentence, Ricks served almost 25 years for the murder and felony-firearm before the Wayne Circuit Court vacated the convictions and sentences. A Michigan Innocence Clinic had discovered that a Detroit Police Department officer had fabricated the ballistics evidence used to convict Ricks. He was released from prison, and the charges were dismissed.

Ricks submitted a WICA complaint to the Court of Claims seeking compensation for the time he was wrongfully imprisoned from October 13, 1992, to May 26, 2017.

The State agreed Ricks met WICA’s eligibility requirements for the time he wrongfully served on the murder-related convictions. But it maintained that MCL 691.1755(4), which bars compensation for any time served under a consecutive sentence for another conviction, excludes from eligibility the time Ricks served on the parole-revocation sentence. The Court of Claims agreed with the State, holding that the four years and 118 days should not be included in the WICA compensation payments. A stipulated judgment was entered in Ricks’ favor for $1,014,657.53 while he reserved the right to appeal the remainder of his claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Claims in a split decision, and the instant appeal followed.

The Michigan Supreme Court observed that the WICA waives sovereign immunity and allows a person who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned to seek compensation by bringing an action against the State in the Court of Claims. MCL 691.1753. The WICA has two steps. The first determines whether a claimant is eligible for compensation. MCL 691.1755(1). The second calculates the precise amount of compensation that must be awarded to eligible claimants. MCL 691.1755(2).

A successful WICA claimant must have been convicted of at least one crime under Michigan law; must have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment in a state correctional facility; and must have served at least part of the sentence for that crime. MCL 691.17550(1)(a). The conviction must have been reversed or vacated, and the claimant must prove that their charges were subsequently dismissed or that they were acquitted on retrial. MCL 691.1755(1)(b). Finally, the claimant must show by clear and convincing evidence that new evidence shows that they “did not perpetrate the crime and [were] not an accomplice or accessory to the acts that were the basis of the conviction....” MCL 691.1755(1)(c).

Once a court determines a plaintiff is eligible, it must award $50,000 “for each year from the date the plaintiff was imprisoned until the date the plaintiff was released from prison....” MCL 691.1755(2)(a). However, the exception in MCL 691.1755(4) states: “Compensation may not be awarded under subsection (2) for any time during which the plaintiff was imprisoned under a concurrent or consecutive sentence for another conviction.” The courts below excluded the time served on the parole revocation because, in their view, such time constituted a “consecutive sentence for another conviction.”

The Court determined the issue was one of statutory interpretation, the primary goal of which is to give effect to the Legislature’s intent. Mich Ed Ass’n v. Secretary of State (On Remand), 801 N.W.2d 35 (Mich. 2011). A statute’s language “offers the most reliable evidence of the Legislature’s intent.” Badeen v. PAR, Inc, 853 N.W.2d 303 (Mich. 2014).

“Consecutive sentences” are “those following in a train, succeeding one another in a regular order, with an uninterrupted course or succession, and having no interval or break.” People v. Chambers, 421 N.W.2d 903 (Mich.1988). But the Court explained that the WICA doesn’t use the phrase “consecutive sentences;” instead, it uses the singular noun “a ... consecutive sentence.” When the Supreme Court interprets a statute, it “strives to give effect to every phrase, clause, and word in it.” Rock v. Crocker, 884 N.W.2d 227 (Mich. 2016). The Legislature’s choice to use “a” consecutive sentence instead of “consecutive sentences” meant the Legislature was intentionally excluding “a consecutive sentence” that “only begins to run after the completion of another sentence,” according to the Court. 21A Am Jur 2d Criminal Law §§ 808, 812.

Ricks’ parole-revocation sentence was served before, not after, the time he served on the wrongful convictions. The Court stated that merely because the sentences were served consecutively does not mean the parole-revocation sentence was “a consecutive sentence” as defined by MCL 691.1755(4).

The Court explained “[a] sentence that is served before another begins to run is not a consecutive sentence. It is not consecutive to anything.” The Court ruled that “MCL 691.1755 (4)’s consecutive-sentence exception bars compensation only for time served under a sentence that begins to run after the completion of the sentence for the conviction giving rise to the claimant’s WICA eligibility.”

The Court concluded “[b]ecause Ricks did not serve a consecutive sentence for another conviction during his wrongful imprisonment from October 13, 1992 to May 26, 2017, MCL 691.1755(4)’s exception does not bar compensation for any of that time. We also hold that once a WICA claimant has satisfied the threshold-eligibility requirements of MCL 691.1755(1), the only remaining tasks are to determine whether any time served is subject to MCL 691.1755(4)’s exception and to calculate the amount owed ‘for each from the date the plaintiff was imprisoned until the date the plaintiff was released from prison….’” MCL 691.1755(2)(a).

Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded to the Court of Claims for further proceedings. See: Ricks v. State, 2021 Mich. LEXIS 1241 (2021). 

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