Devontae Sanford, other wrongfully convicted could be compensated for time in prison

Devontae Sanford spent more than a decade behind bars. Now, he and his attornies are filing litigation to compensate the wrongfully convicted

Imagine spending years locked up for a crime you didn't commit - then struggling to find work when you're finally free. That's the problem that faces Devontae Sanford and many other men and women who were wrongfully convicted and then spent years behind bars.

Sanford's name is well-known in Metro Detroit and Michigan abroad. Earlier this year, he was freed from prison only to find that not only could he not find work - he had litle compensation for his time behind bars.

He and one of his attornies are in the process of filing litigation, but they may also soon have another option to add along the way to increase their amount in damages. If signed into law, Bill 291 would allow the state of Michigan to pay ex-inmates who have been proven innocent $50,000 for each year served.

Warren Democrat Steven Bieda has been working on this since he took office in 2003.

"$50,000 is not that much when you look at the human cost that person has incurred. So is the way to kind of help them pick up their pieces of their lives and get on with their lives," Bieda said.

One of the Sanford's attorneys has been reading the lanuage in the bill and believes it might be possible for her client to take this compensation and continue with a federal civil lawsuit.

"At the same time he will still have the right to bring A federal civil rights action in federal court against any individual bowls or municipalities departments that were responsible during the course of their investigation prosecution or conviction for the wrongful conviction of the victim," attorney Julie Hurwitz said.

So how much did Sanford get when he walked out of prison? Enough to get a cheap meal.

"When I was released from prison I was handed an envelope and when I got in the car, opened the envelope it was $15 in there. So if I didn't have the type of support and family, I would be lost," he said.

Sanford said this bill or any dollar amount can never make up for the terrible experience he endured as a teen - but it's a start.

"I was assaulted by prison guards. My grandmother passed away when I was in prison. You're basically putting a value on that. There were times I wasn't able to eat three or four days at a time (because) guards wouldn't feed me. So you're telling me everything that I went through it was only worth $50,000," Sanford said.

The bill passed in the house with only two 'no' votes. In the Senate, it passed unanimously. Now it's on the Governor's deska nd could be signed into law by the end of the year.


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