Judge to decide if Missouri owes wrongfully-convicted man $840K in restitution

FOX Files

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – DNA cleared Johnny Briscoe of a crime he didn’t commit after he served 23 years in prison. Now, the courts are deciding if the justice system owes him for its mistake. FOX 2 was the only media outlet in the courtroom for Tuesday’s arguments.

It’s Missouri law – if the courts declare a person “actually innocent,” they are to be paid restitution of $100 for every day they were wrongfully imprisoned. Everyone agrees the man at the center of today’s argument spent 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, but the Missouri Attorney General’s Office argued in court that Briscoe waited too long to ask for his money.

DNA evidence exonerated Briscoe in 2006 after he’d been convicted for a rape and robbery he did not commit. No one knows why he waited 15 years to ask for his restitution, but his attorney pointed out Tuesday that his delay only benefits the state.

Here’s why.

Under Missouri Revised Statute Chapter 650, restitution for those found actually innocent is paid out by the Missouri Department of Corrections in yearly installments of $36,000. Briscoe’s attorney, Mitchell Johnson, explained that it would take 23 years to pay Briscoe’s restitution of $840,000. Plus, state law says those payments end with someone’s death and Briscoe would be 90 before the restitution could be paid out completely.

The Missouri AG’s Office doesn’t deny Briscoe is innocent but argued in court that a statute of limitations applies and that Briscoe is too late.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell’s office argued the opposite, saying the statute of limitations is for civil cases and not a criminal case like Briscoe’s.

Bell spoke to FOX 2 about the case last week, saying, “I think the statute is clear that if the legislature intended for there to be a statute of limitations to be placed on it, then they could have done that. As a matter of fact, they did the opposite. Initially, there was a year requirement to file within a year, but that was removed by the legislature.”

Judge Michael Burton said he may make a quick decision. He asked for written arguments by noon Wednesday and said he might issue a ruling by July 1.

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