With today’s orders list, the Texas Supreme Court issued one opinion and did not select any new cases for review.

Compensation for wrongful imprisonment when the wrongful conviction also triggers parole revocation

In re Billy James Smith, No. 10-0048 (DDB)

In this case, the Texas Supreme Court confronted the question whether a wrongfully convicted prisoner could recover for time he spent in prison due to the revocation of a previous parole — caused by that wrongful conviction.

Smith was convicted of armed robbery in 1970, eventually being released on parole in 1983. In 1986, he was convicted to aggravated sexual assault — the conviction later determined to be wrongful. This conviction led to the revocation of his previous parole, and for a brief time he was jailed for both reasons. Then, in 1987, his parole came to an end and he was imprisoned only for his later conviction.

In 2006, it was determined through DNA evidence that he was actually innocent of this second conviction. He applied for compensation under the Texas statute. The Comptroller paid most of the claim, but withheld payment for the period of time when he was imprisoned for the parole revocation.

The dispute is over this provision of the statute, which carves out an exception for time periods when “the person was also serving a concurrent sentence for another crime.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §103.001(b).

The Texas Supreme Court, after hearing oral argument, determined that this provision was ambiguous about whether “serving … a sentence” included parole. It thus looked to other sources beyond the statutory text for guidance.

The key outside source became a 2007 opinion from the Texas Attorney General that dealt with a similar situation arising from the Tulia prosecutions. In that case, one of the applicants had been released on probation (rather than parole, as in this case). The Attorney General eventually determined that the Comptroller should approve the application “if the concurrent sentence was served solely because of the wrongful conviction.”

In defending the Comptroller’s decision not to pay this claim, the AG took the position that parole was different than probation. The Texas Supreme Court acknowledged that the two were different, but concluded that the differences did not bear on the Legislature’s intent in this statute: “it seems unlikely that the Legislature intended to compensate wrongfully-imprisoned probationers, and not parolees, given the similarity in their circumstances.”

The Texas Supreme Court granted relief, conditionally ordering the Comptroller to pay the remainder of the claim.