A person who has been wrongfully convicted in Texas, and who has served time in prison, might be entitled to compensation under the Tim Cole Act, codified in Chapter 103 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
While our law firm was instrumental in helping pass the Tim Cole Act, we no longer assist people who have been wrongfully convicted or incarcerated in obtaining compensation. This is primarily due to the fact that the application process is relatively straight forward, and if you qualify and submit an application that conforms, the Comptroller must approve your application and pay your compensation.
A list of compensation recipients can be found here.
Not everyone who is released from prison is eligible. You are entitled to compensation if:
(1) you have serve in whole or in part a sentence in prison in Texas; and
- have received a full pardon on the basis of your innocence; or
- have been granted relief in accordance with a writ of habeas corpus that is based on a court finding or determination that you are actually innocent; or
- have been granted relief in accordance with a writ of habeas corpus and:
- the state district court has entered an order dismissing the charge; and
- the district court’s dismissal order is based on a motion to dismiss in which the state’s attorney states that no credible evidence exists that inculpates you, and the states attorney, either in the motion or in an affidavit, states that he/she believes that you are actually innocent of the crime.
If you were serving a sentence for a different crime at the same time as serving the sentence for the crime of which you are innocent, you are not eligible for the time served on that concurrent sentence. The idea is that you would have been serving that time for the other crime/sentence, regardless of your wrongful conviction, so the State does not owe you anything for it.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is required to provide oral and written notice to a wrongfully-imprisoned person that includes: (1) guidance on how to obtain compensation, and (2) a list of nonprofit advocacy groups that assist wrongfully-convicted persons in filing claims for compensation (including their contact information).
The Department must provide the information at the time of release from prison, or as soon as practical after the Department has reason to believe that you are entitled to compensation.
Amount of Compensation
The Tim Cole Act sets out a total of four different types of compensation the claimant might be entitled to.
Lump Sum Payments
If you are eligible for compensation, you are entitled to $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration. This is paid as a lump sum. You are also entitled to child support payments that became due during the time served, plus the interest on child support arrears that accrued during the time served.
If you were released on parole or were required to register as a sex offender, then you are also entitled to $25,000 for each year served on parole or as a registered sex offender.
The Comptroller must make the lump sum payment within 30 days of granting your application for compensation.
In addition to the lump sum payment mentioned above, you are also entitled to an annuity of the same amount that will be paid out over the rest of your life. These payments will be terminated, however, if you are subsequently convicted of a felony.
Annuity payments begin one year after your receive your lump sum payment, and are paid out monthly until your death.
College Tuition and Fees
You have up to seven years to also request payment of up to 120 hours of college tuition and fees.
You are also entitled to obtain group heath benefit plan coverage through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, just as if you were an employee of the Department. This does not extend coverage to your spouse or family members; it only applies to you. You are allowed to obtain coverage for a period of time equal to the total time served (in prison + on parole).
If you elect to obtain this health coverage, you must pay monthly insurance premiums.
Applying for Compensation
The exact requirements for the application procedure are set out in Section 103.051 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code.
Time Limitation to File the Application
If you are eligible to receive compensation, you must file an application for compensation with the comptroller within three years of either: (1) the pardon date; (2) the date the writ of habeas corpus was granted; or (3) the date of the order of dismissal.
If you are eligible for compensation, you file an application with the Comptroller’s Judiciary Section. A copy of the one-page application can be downloaded here. You fill in your name, address, phone number, alternate phone number, social security number, and TDCJ number.
You must include with the application for compensation all of the following:
- a verified copy of the pardon, court order, motion to dismiss, and affidavit (if applicable) justifying the application for compensation; and
- a statement provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and any county or municipality that incarcerated you that verifies the length of incarceration; and
- if applicable, a statement from the Texas Department of Public Safety verifying registration as a sex offender and the length of that registration; and
- if applicable, a statement from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice verifying the length of time spent on parole; and
- if you are applying for child support compensation, a certified copy of each child support order under which payments became due during the time you served in prison and copies of the official child support payment records for that period; and
- To prove your birth date, a copy of a birth certificate, state driver’s license, state ID, or a notarized statement verifying the month, day and year of birth.
You’ll then write out the amount of compensation you’re entitled to, which can be the most difficult part to calculate.
Lastly, you sign a certification stating that the information you’ve provided is correct and that you’ll immediately notify the Comptroller’s Judiciary Section in writing of any changes or conditions that would disqualify payment.
If an attorney has assisted you in the preparation of the application, their name, address, phone number, and email address must also be filled in.
Submitting the Application
The completed form and supporting documentation should be mailed to the following address:
Comptroller’s Judiciary Section
PO BOX 13528
Austin TX 78711-3528
It is recommended to mail it “certified mail, return receipt requested” using the United States Postal Service. While this costs more (between $4 and $9), the level of tracking and delivery confirmation is well worth it, given the amount of compensation at stake.
Assistance in Preparing and Filing the Application
The Tim Cole Act simplifies the process to obtain compensation so much so that a lawyer is no longer necessary. The form itself is very simple to fill out (except for the calculation of compensation due to you). The most difficult part of the application process is obtaining the correct supporting documentation.
Many nonprofits can help you with your application. The Act does impose strict restrictions on people or groups who charge fees for helping you with your application.
First, any fee must be a reasonable hourly fee. No one is allowed to charge you a percentage of your compensation.
Second, the hourly rate that will be charged must be stated in writing up front (before an attorney can enter into a fee agreement with you).
Third, the fee cannot be collected before before a final determination is made by the comptroller that you are eligible or ineligible for compensation.
Lastly, the person seeking to collect the fee must submit a fee report to the Comptroller’s Judiciary Section within 14 days after the application is filed. The report must include the total dollar amount sought for fees; the number of hours worker preparing, filing, or curing the application; and the name of the applicant. The report is public information.
The Comptroller must make a determination of (1) your eligibility for compensation, and (2) the amount of compensation. The Comptroller has 45 days after your application is received to make this determination.
If the Comptroller denies your claim, he/she must state the reason for the denial. Within 30 days of your receipt of the denial, you must submit an application to cure the problem(s) identified. If the Comptroller denies your second application, you may bring a an action for mandamus relief.
Foregoing the Right to File a Lawsuit
If you file and application and subsequently receive compensation, you are no longer allowed to file a lawsuit against any governmental entity or governmental employee for your wrongful arrest, conviction, or length of confinement. The Tim Cole Act was meant to give those who have been wrongfully convicted and incarcerate an quick, easy means to obtain compensation without the need to file a lawsuit and engage in costly, lengthy litigation against the State.