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Cody Marble in front of the Missoula County Courthouse
Cody Marble in front of the Missoula County Courthouse (Photo from The Missoulian)

Montana Innocence Project freed client Cody Marble’s motion to receive rental vouchers from the Department of Corrections for the pendency of his exoneree compensation claim was granted Wednesday.

Marble became the first person to file for exoneree compensation under House Bill 92 last September. While the claim process is underway, the law mandates the DOC to provide monthly rental vouchers to the claimant. Months after Cody filed for compensation, the DOC had still not issued him rental vouchers. Following an article reported by Mike Dennison that generated public concern, the DOC issued Cody only three months of rental assistance.

In March, Cody’s attorneys filed a motion requesting that the DOC abide by HB 92’s plain language and legislative intent by issuing monthly rental vouchers until the claim process ends.

The State of Montana and Missoula County argued that they were only required to pay Cody for three months pursuant to section one of Montana Code Annotated 46-23-1041, which is Montana’s law about rental vouchers for parolees.

Section one reads, “If the department does not approve an offender’s parole plan because the offender is unable to secure suitable living arrangements, the department may provide rental vouchers to the offender for a period not to exceed 3 months if the rental assistance will result in an approved parole plan.”

Nothing about Cody’s circumstances are relevant to section one of this law. He is not an offender seeking a parole plan.

The section of this law that pertains to Cody is section two. Section two reads, “The department shall provide a rental voucher to a claimant if required by 46-32-106(7),” which is Montana’s exoneree compensation law. That law states, “the department of corrections shall provide a housing voucher pursuant to 46-23-1041 to the claimant while an action under this part is pending.”

Put simply: the State of Montana and Missoula County attempted to apply the wrong section of a law to only pay three months in rental assistance, despite the exoneree compensation law specifically requiring rental vouchers for the entire time a compensation claim is pending.

In his order, District Judge Shane Vannatta wrote, “In determining the plain meaning of the statutes, the Court must construe them according to plain meaning and construe them together to avoid an absurd  result and give effect to the purpose of the statute.”

The rental vouchers are an essential part of the law because exonerees face uphill battles rebuilding their lives post-wrongful incarceration. Cody was wrongfully convicted as a teenager and lost formative years. He works odd jobs when he can, but he regularly struggles to make ends meet.

“This is a victory for more than me,” Cody said in a conversation with MTIP about the ruling. “It’s a win for you guys too (MTIP), and for all those who worked for this bill. It’s half the reason I’m doing this, for other [wrongfully convicted] peoples’ benefit.”

Click here to read more about Cody’s experience with Montana’s new exoneree compensation law.