MacDonald Hoague & Bayless works to free innocent persons wrongfully imprisoned and obtain compensation for them after their release.
Since the advent of DNA testing, over 350 prisoners in the United States have been exonerated, i.e., deemed innocent, for crimes they did not commit, but for which they were convicted anyway. These dramatic statistics reflect increasingly sophisticated DNA testing that allows investigators to revisit crimes, even after decades have passed, and determine whether a person convicted left “DNA material” (for instance, blood, hair, saliva, or even skin cells) at a crime scene. DNA evidence is revolutionary because it can definitively show the presence of another perpetrator at a crime scene and exclude persons convicted of a crime as having left no physical trace to the crime itself.
For civil rights lawyers, DNA testing has been equally revolutionary because it exposed the fallacy that many other methods of “proof” traditionally used by police and prosecutors – such as eyewitness identification and a defendant’s “confession” - were unquestionably solid. Instead, MHB lawyers and other practitioners have uncovered beneath the surface of some convictions that police and prosecutors have engaged in manipulation of the evidence, suggestive identification procedures, tactics to elicit false confessions, and other unlawful practices that have deprived people of a fair trial and other constitutional rights and sent them to prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
The law provides a remedy under the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for persons wrongfully convicted or detained pre-trial, if they can show their constitutional rights were violated during the police investigation or criminal prosecution. These types of wrongful incarceration cases are usually very complicated and difficult, both in terms of recovering all the relevant evidence and navigating the gamut of legal defenses that police and other government actors enjoy. In Washington, the wrongfully incarcerated also have, since 2013, been able to resort to the state “no-fault” compensation statute under RCW 4.100 that allows for recovery of $50,000 for every year of wrongful confinement based on a showing of actual innocence and dismissal of the conviction through significant new exculpatory information.
MHB lawyers have demonstrated experience and success in vindicating our clients’ rights under both 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and RCW 4.100:
- In Northrop v. Clark County et al, MHB lawyers secured a judgment of $17 million through settlement 10 days into the federal trial for our client who was wrongfully convicted in Clark County and served 17 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.
- In Anderson v. State of Washington, MHB lawyers filed the first petition under the new compensation statute and ultimately obtained over $200,000 for our client convicted of a series of robberies he didn’t commit.
- In many other cases, MHB lawyers have challenged wrongful detentions and recovered monetary compensation for our clients whom the police falsely arrested and detained for prolonged periods until prosecutors dropped charges or our clients were otherwise freed before or at their criminal trial.
- In conjunction with the Innocence Project Northwest, the Innocence Network, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, MHB lawyers have also provided amicus (“friend of the court”) briefing on important legal issues related to interpreting RCW 4.100, such as in Larson v. State, 194 Wash. App. 722, 375 P.3d 1096, review denied, 186 Wash. 2d 1025, 385 P.3d 117 (2016) (“newly” discovered evidence must be broadly construed).