The Supreme Court of Texas will answer that question in a case of first impression in Texas as well as the rest of the nation. In 1983 Steven Phillips was convicted of sexual assault. He would spend the next 24 years in jail.
During that time, his marriage ended. Eventually, DNA evidence exonerated him and he became eligible for some $2 million in compensation under Texas wrongful conviction laws. His wife is now suing him, claiming that she is entitled to be compensated for the loss of his income during their 10 year marriage, and the time, money, and suffering she wasted while he was imprisoned.
A Dallas judge awarded her $150,000 and now the case is headed up on appeal. The Court’s ruling should be interesting. Is compensation for wrongful conviction community property? If so, she might be entitled to much more than $150,000. If not, is she entitled to damages for loss of consortium or some other cause of action? Should the state be on the hook for those damages, or should the exoneree give up some of his compensation?
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