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State Claims Board must analyze and make findings regarding innocent person’s request for additional compensation

Derrick A. Sanders v. State of Wisconsin Claims Board, 2021AP373, District 4, 6/9/22 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

This lengthy, unpublished decision doesn’t bear directly on issues arising in day-to-day criminal litigation, but we note it here because its topic—compensation from the state to wrongly convicted innocent persons—may be of interest.

Under § 775.05(4), when the State Claims Board finds that a person seeking compensation for being wrongly convicted is indeed innocent, it must exercise its discretion and “find the amount which will equitably compensate the [person], not to exceed $25,000 and at a rate of compensation not greater than $5,000 per year for the imprisonment”; however, if the  Board finds the amount it is “able to award [under these parameters] is not an adequate compensation it shall submit a report specifying an amount it considers adequate” to the legislature for it to consider appropriating an adequate sum.

Sanders was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was exonerated in 2018. He sought $5 million dollars in compensation based, among other things, on wages he’d lost in the 25 years he was wrongly imprisoned. The Board acknowledged he was innocent, but awarded him only $25,000, without saying a whit about his claim for additional compensation.

The court of appeals holds that § 775.05(4), when read as a whole, means that the Board must make findings and engage in an analysis of whether the statutory maximum is or is not “an adequate compensation.” The Board’s failure to say anything on the topic of adequate compensation is itself an erroneous exercise of discretion, so Sanders’s case is sent back to the Board for a proper exercise of discretion.

A dissenting judge concludes § 775.05(4) requires the Board to say something about adequacy of compensation only if it concludes that $25,000 is not adequate, and thus the Board could simply award the statutory maximum without saying more.

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