Exonerated Texas Prisoner’s Ex-Wife Not Entitled to Compensation
by Matt Clarke
In a May 12, 2014 opinion, a Texas Court of Appeals held that the former wife of a prisoner who spent over 24 years in prison was not entitled to a portion of the $2 million he received in compensation.
“Steven Phillips and Traci Tucker were married in 1980. Two years later, Phillips was arrested, convicted and ultimately incarcerated” on a rape charge. They divorced in 1992.
Phillips was released on parole in 2007. The next year, DNA testing proved he had not committed the rape, which made him eligible for $80,000 per year of wrongful confinement under the Tim Cole Act, § 103.052(a) of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. [See: PLN, Aug. 2010, p.12].
Tucker then filed suit against Phillips, seeking a portion of the compensation under the theory that some of the money was for lost wages while the couple was still married. The state trial court agreed, awarding Tucker $114,459.50 of the compensation funds plus attorney fees and costs.
The Court of Appeals held that “(1) no portion of the amount [Phillips] was awarded under the Act is for lost wages, and (2) his right to compensation under the Act did not exist at the time the parties divorced.” For those reasons, Tucker was not entitled to a portion of the compensation award.
In reaching its conclusion, the Court of Appeals noted that compensation under the Act did not depend on prior work history; the compensation amount was determined by simply multiplying the number of years of wrongful incarceration by $80,000. Prior to 2009, versions of the statute allowed a choice between compensation at a fixed amount per year or filing suit for economic damages, including lost wages. However, the option of filing suit was removed under the Tim Cole Act.
The Act does contain a provision for recovery of child support that was unpaid due to the incarceration of a spouse, and the Court noted Tucker had already received payments under that provision. “But nowhere in the Act does the Legislature provide compensation for the spouse of an exoneree.” Therefore, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s judgment and held that Tucker was not entitled to any portion of the compensation award. See: Phillips v. Tucker, 442 S.W.3d 543 (Tex. App. Dallas 2014), petition for review filed.
Additional source: www.abcl3.com
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Related legal case
Phillips v. Tucker
|442 S.W.3d 543 (Tex. App. Dallas 2014), petition for review filed
|State Court of Appeals