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New Law Grants Tax Relief to the Wrongfully Incarcerated; Refunds for Taxes Paid on Past Awards Available for One Year
Posted in Tax and Finance
New law grants tax relief to the wrongfully incarcerated; refunds for taxes paid on past awards available for one year

The popularity of “Making a Murderer” on Netflix and the first season of the NPR podcast “Serial” has sparked a national conversation about potential wrongful criminal convictions and the ability of the American legal system to deal with the issue and compensate for injustices. Now, those who are found to be wrongfully convicted of a crime will be afforded relief from an unlikely source: the tax code.

At the end of 2015, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 (P.L. 114-113), which includes a provision preventing the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) from taxing restitution or civil damages awarded to individuals determined to be wrongfully incarcerated.

Previously, it had been the IRS’s position that tax was due on monetary awards received by an individual who had been wrongfully convicted unless the money was received because the individual had become sick or was physically injured while wrongfully incarcerated. The new law ensures that no monetary award received on account of an individual’s wrongful incarceration will be subject to federal taxation.

This new law even goes one step further: it applies retroactively to those who paid tax on their awards at any time in the past. Those who may have been wrongfully convicted due to the lack of DNA evidence available during their trial, perjury, or other reasons who were subsequently exonerated and awarded restitution or civil damages for their wrongful incarceration will have until Dec. 18, 2016, one year after the date the law was enacted, to file a claim for a refund on the tax they paid.

Although the jury is still out on whether the convictions of Steven Avery (“Making a Murderer”) and Adnan Syed (“Serial") were proper, one thing is certain: if their convictions are overturned, any monetary awards they receive from the state will be theirs to keep, free from federal tax.


To learn more about Ross D. Cohen and his practice, please visit his profile.

To learn more about Bailey Roese and her practice, please visit her profile.

Watch Season One of “Making a Murderer” on Netflix here.

Listen to Season One and Season Two of “Serial” podcast here.

Image Credit: www.smartgivers.org

  • Associate

    Bailey represents taxpayers in federal, state, and local tax controversies as a member of the Firm’s Tax & Employee Benefits practice group. Bailey regularly advocates for clients in the state courts and administrative ...

  • Partner

    Ross D. Cohen serves as Co-Leader of the Federal Tax Team and concentrates his practice in the areas of tax and business law, focusing on federal tax transactional and planning issues of partnerships, joint ventures, limited ...

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