258D MA Compensation Law

Massachusetts has a compensation statute for individuals who were convicted of crimes they did not commit, and have been subsequently exonerated (MASS GEN. LAWS ch. 258D, (2014)). It is intended to provide monetary relief to innocent people who have been wrongfully incarcerated. Passed in 2004, the statute allows anyone who was incarcerated because of an erroneous felony conviction to bring a civil claim against the Commonwealth for damages. These claims can be tried in front of a jury or a judge; the statute guarantees claimants the right to a jury trial if they want one.

To be eligible to recover damages, claimants must meet the requirements imposed by Section 1 of the statute. They must prove that, among other things, they are innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. It is not enough to show that their conviction was overturned because of procedural, evidentiary, or other reasons. 258D is meant to help true exonerees who can show that they are actually innocent of the crime in question.

Section 5 of the statute outlines the factors the court or jury must consider in determining damages. The list is not dispositive, and fact-finders may take other factors into account if they so choose. Total damages in a 258D claim cannot exceed $500,000.00. The damages can include 50% discounted tuition at any state or community college in Massachusetts.

Section 8 of the law requires that 258D claims be brought within 2 years of a conviction being overturned. Any claims not brought within the time limit will be “forever barred from consideration by the courts of the commonwealth.”

Guzman v. Commonwealth (74 Mass. App. Ct. 466 (2009)) is the earliest case dealing with 258D. The court in Guzman elaborated further on 258D’s standard for eligibility, arguing that the statute’s innocence requirement forces claimants to demonstrate “grounds resting upon facts and circumstances probative of the proposition that the claimant did not commit the crime” (74 Mass. App. Ct. at 476). Guzman’s case shows that ex-convicts have to meet a heavier burden to prove that they “didn’t do it.”

Subsequent cases have imposed a strict threshold on other claimants, ruling against them unless they can prove that they are actually innocent. Exonerated individuals whose convictions were overturned merely for procedural or evidentiary reasons – or because of problems with their juries or the prosecutors – cannot bring 258D claims unless they can independently prove that they did not commit the crimes for which they were convicted.