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Maryland Approves New Rules to Compensate the Wrongfully Convicted

We all know that the criminal justice system is far from perfect. Too many people are wrongfully convicted of serious crimes every year. As a result, there are innocent people who continue to languish in prison, sometimes for decades.

When a wrongfully convicted person is later exonerated, Maryland law does make it possible for them to obtain compensation from the state. But the system for compensation lacked structure. The Maryland Board of Public Works (BPW) was given the discretion to decide the eligibility for, and amount of, compensation on a case-by-case basis.

Recently, the General Assembly changed all that. In April, Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill known as the Walter Lomax Act. The bill’s namesake was a 72-year-old man who had served 39 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The BPW later awarded Lomax $3 million in compensation. Sadly, Lomax died of a heart attack shortly before he was scheduled to testify before the General Assembly regarding the bill that would bear his name.

What the Lomax Act Does

Under the new rules, which take effect on July 1, the BPW no longer has the discretion to decide if a wrongfully convicted person is entitled to compensation. Instead, an administrative law judge employed by the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings must determine eligibility. Eligibility must be based on either of the following criteria:

  • The person received a full pardon from the Governor, which states their conviction was “conclusively shown to be in error”; or
  • The ALJ determines, based on “clear and convincing evidence,” that a person was wrongfully convicted of a felony or engaged in any other conduct, such as perjury, that led to their conviction.

Once the ALJ determines a wrongfully convicted person is eligible, they must then order a monetary award. The amount of this award is based on the total number of days of wrongful confinement multiplied by a “daily rate,” which itself is based on Maryland’s then-current median household income. The ALJ can also order the state to provide additional benefits to the wrongfully convicted person, including housing and health care for up to five years following their release from prison, vocational training, and a state-issued identification card.

The BPW is required to follow the ALJ’s order. An initial payment equal to one year of compensation is due within 60 days of the order. The remainder of the compensation must then be paid in installments over a period of no more than six years.

Contact Waldorf Criminal Defense Attorney Robert Castro Today

Of course, there is no amount of money that can ever fully compensate or restore a person to the point they were prior to a wrongful conviction. But the Walter Lomax Act does represent a significant step forward in attempting to remedy some of the injustice present in our current legal system.

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.