Wrongful Conviction Settlement Proceeds Ruled Marital Property In Divorce When Conviction Happened Prior To Marriage

Judge’s Ruling: Since the husband’s lawsuit for wrongful conviction accrued during the marriage, it was therefore marital property and subject to equitable distribution to the parties.


Facts:

  • Juan Rivera was charged with first degree murder in 1992. The victim had been raped and stabbed multiple times. Incriminating evidence against Mr. Rivera was presented including statements he made to the police and a signed confession. He argued that the above evidence was coerced by police.
  • When brought to trial, Mr. Rivera was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility for parole in 1993. Mr. Rivera appealed his murder conviction the same year and his conviction was reversed and the matter was left to be determined and reconsidered during new trial proceedings.
  • During Mr. Rivera’s second jury trial in 1998, the jury found him guilty once again and sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Rivera appealed this second conviction the same year and in 2002 the appellate court affirmed.  
  • While incarcerated in prison, Mr. Rivera married in October of 2000.
  • A third jury trial commenced in 2009 in which information of record was presented showing that Mr. Rivera was already under arrest on electronic home monitoring at the time the rape and murder took place. This means that Mr. Rivera could not have committed the crime because he was at home.
  • However, the jury during the third trial still convicted him again and sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.In 2011, the appellate court reversed the third conviction on Mr. Rivera’s appeal and he was released from prison in 2012.
  • In October 2012, Mr. Rivera filed a lawsuit against Lake County, various local governments, and members of the Illinois State Police for damages arising from his wrongful conviction.
  • In May 2014, Mr. Rivera filed for divorce from his wife, Melissa. In March 2015, Mr. Rivera settled the wrongful conviction lawsuit for $11.3 million.


 

  1. During the divorce proceedings, Melissa claimed that the settlement Juan received was marital property. Juan argued that the settlement was non-marital because the lawsuit arose out of the wrongful incarceration and conviction which were derived from conduct that occurred in 1992, before the marriage in 2000.
  2. The trial court regarded Juan’s lawsuit and settlement proceeds as no different than other personal injury lawsuits involving injuries that occurred before marriage. In such cases, a settlement or claim remains non-marital, regardless of whether the lawsuit is brought or the settlement is paid during the marriage.
  3. On appeal by Melissa, the Appellate Court stated that Juan’s lawsuit did not come into existence and did not accrue until his conviction was reversed in 2011, during the marriage. 
  4. The appellate judge stated that a cause of action that accrues during the marriage is deemed marital property and thus subject to distribution in accordance with Section 503 of the Dissolution Act.

Illinois Appellate Court | Dissolution of Marriage In re Marriage of Rivera, 2016 IL App (1st) 160552 (September 30, 2016) Cook Co., 4th Div.

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