Friday, June 21, 2013

Should Families of the Wrongfully Convicted be Compensated Too?

Steven Phillips had been recently married and was in the midst of starting a new business when he was convicted of sex crimes in 1982. His wife, along with his young son, spent the next ten years visiting Phillips in prison, sending him money, and above all else, trying to get him out. The strain of being behind bars combined with the thought of never getting out prompted Mr. Phillips to seek a divorce after ten years of marriage.

After spending 24 years behind bars, DNA evidence exonerated Phillips, prompting the state of Texas to award him a compensation package of $6 million for his wrongful conviction pursuant to Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Sec. 103.001,et seq., Compensation To Persons Wrongfully Imprisoned. This has generated a legal battle unlike any other in the nation and raises the following issue: should families of the wrongfully convicted be compensated too?

Phillips’s ex-wife believes she is entitled to a portion of his award and has taken legal action. A Texas court agreed with her, and ordered that she be given approximately $153,000 of the award. He is currently appealing this decision. Read more here.  

In Connecticut, Connecticut General Statutes 54-102uu - Compensation for wrongful incarceration, gives compensation to a person who has been wrongfully convicted, but makes no reference to their family. The outcome of the Phillips case will likely be instructive for similar situations going forward, and may even spark a trend in providing for family members of the wrongfully convicted.