A first-of-its-kind case out of Texas this month has a lot of people here in Washington seeing how complicated things can get when criminal law and family law are in contention. It's also making lawmakers across the country reconsider whether their own state laws are equipped to handle a similar situation in the future.
The case began back in 1982 when a man was accused of committing a string of sex crimes. To prevent the case from going on to a third trial and possibly a life sentence, the man pleaded guilty. He spent 24 years in prison before DNA testing confirmed that he had not been the man responsible for the crimes. In 2009, the courts awarded him exoneree compensation totalling approximately $6 million dollars. It's because of this settlement that things begin to get complicated.
Prior to his conviction, the man was married and had one son. According to testimony provided by him and his wife, the couple became distant and divorced in 1992. Because the man's exoneration did not come until 11 years after his divorce, should his ex-wife be entitled to a portion of the compensation?
Herein lies the crux of the legal dispute. The man's ex-wife argued in court that she was entitled to a portion of the money, considering the fact that she too suffered during the time that her then husband was in prison. Last year, a court judge agreed and awarded her $150,000 of the settlement. The husband disagrees with this decision and has since filed an appeal. According to the man, the amount awarded to his wife in the recent decision was not for lost wages but rather for the amount of time that he had been in prison. He also argues that because he was not eligible for compensation until after the divorce then it should not be subject to division under state laws.
Some legal experts feel that this case could go as far as the state's supreme court and could raise important questions in other states about the entitlement of divorced spouses to exoneree compensation.
Source: The Monitor, "Exoneree faces ex-wife in compensation lawsuit," Brandi Grissom, June 18, 2013