Divorcing Spouse Could Get Half of Settlement Money in Wrongful Conviction Case
A recent multi-million-dollar settlement in a criminal case involving a man who was wrongfully convicted and spent 20 years in prison could have serious implications for his divorce case. That’s because his estranged spouse is now seeking half of that settlement award as part of the division of property and assets in the divorce. Juan […]
A recent multi-million-dollar settlement in a criminal case involving a man who was wrongfully convicted and spent 20 years in prison could have serious implications for his divorce case. That’s because his estranged spouse is now seeking half of that settlement award as part of the division of property and assets in the divorce.
Juan Rivera was convicted of rape and murder and later sentenced to life imprisonment. Prosecutors alleged, and successfully convinced a trial jury, that Rivera sexually assaulted and then killed an 11-year-old girl in Waukegan, Illinois.
Rivera spent two decades in prison before independent investigators uncovered DNA evidence that clear him of the crimes. Rivera was then released from prison and subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against multiple law enforcement agencies who allegedly acted negligently throughout the criminal investigation and prosecution 20 years ago. The defendants eventually reached a settlement with Rivera, who was given a payout of $20 million. After taxes and attorney’s fees were factored in, the suspect reportedly received approximately $11.4 million.
However, the suspect may not get to keep all of the settlement money. That’s because an appeals court in Illinois recently ruled that the wrongful conviction settlement award is considered “marital property.” This matters because Rivera is currently going through a divorce from his wife, whom he met and married while he was incarcerated.
Rivera is fighting back against the ruling, with his divorce lawyer recently telling the media that it would be a great injustice if Rivera had to split his wrongful conviction award after having spent 20 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The argument being made by Rivera is that his wrongful conviction occurred prior to his marriage, so the proceeds of the wrongful conviction settlement should not be defined as marital property. It is expected that Rivera will appeal the latest ruling all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, if necessary.
The ultimate ruling in the case could set precedent for how marital property is defined in Illinois – and it could influence divorce courts in other jurisdictions, including New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
For further information, access the Chicago Tribune article, “$20 Million Settlement up for Grabs in Exonerated Man’s Divorce.”
If you are thinking about getting a divorce, or if you have already started the divorce process, you should talk to a qualified family law and divorce lawyer. The skilled, knowledgeable family law and divorce attorneys at Davis & Mendelson will help you navigate the New Jersey divorce courts. Contact us now to schedule a free initial consultation.