In 2019, Ohio expanded its wrongful conviction compensation law to make more exonerees eligible for compensation. Since the statute was originally enacted in 1986, Ohio exonerees have always been able to recover if they affirmatively prove their actual innocence. But even where a person is innocent, “proving a negative”—that they did not commit the crime—can be an insurmountable burden when time passes, evidence is lost or destroyed, and witnesses move or can’t be found. In all but the most straightforward cases, like when DNA evidence conclusively proves someone else committed the crime, the affirmative burden of proving actual innocence was often unfairly difficult to exonerees.
The 2019 amendments still allow an exoneree to recover by proving actual innocence. But they added another path to recovery: An exoneree qualifies for wrongful conviction compensation if their conviction was overturned because the government violated Brady v. Maryland. In other words, if a conviction was overturned because police or prosecutors withheld evidence in the criminal case that could have helped prove innocence impeach the government’s witnesses, the person may now recover wrongful conviction compensation.
The 2019 amendments also reduced a prosecutor’s power to block wrongful conviction claims. In the past, if it was theoretically possible to re-file charges in the future after a conviction was overturned, the exoneree could not pursue wrongful conviction compensation. Murder charges have no criminal statute of limitations in Ohio. And some other serious offenses have 20-year statutes of limitations. So, no matter how clearly innocent a person was, if the criminal statute of limitations had not run, the State could prevent compensation claims merely by pointing out that, technically, it was not legally impossible to re-file charges in the future. The amended statute fixes that by allowing an exoneree to pursue their compensation claim if a year has passed with no re-filed charges.
Critically, the 2019 amendments are retroactive! Even if a person’s conviction was overturned years or decades ago, or even if they filed a claim under an older version of the statute and lost, that person can still bring a claim under the new statute.
What does this mean for exonerees?
If your Ohio wrongful conviction was overturned, you may be eligible for compensation under the new law, either by proving actual innocence or a Brady violation. You may qualify even if you were exonerated long ago, or even if you unsuccessfully filed a wrongful conviction claim before.
For 2020, Ohio law provides successful wrongful conviction claimants $55,045.94 per year of imprisonment, plus lost income, attorney fees, and case expenses. Cooper Elliott’s wrongful conviction attorneys have already helped Ohio wrongful conviction clients recover nearly $2 million in wrongful conviction settlements under the new law.
If you were wrongfully convicted and your conviction has been overturned, we’re here to help. Contact the wrongful conviction lawyers at Cooper Elliott today for a free consultation.
*The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.