The Innocence Project is reporting that Robert Stinson is eligible for only $25,000 of compensation in Wisconsin after serving 23 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. The outrageously low compensation is the result of a statutory compensation level that has not been changed since 1913.
The legislature in 1913 set $5000 a year for compensation — a figure that the IP notes would be $100,000 today if adjusted.
The Wisconsin Claims Board has agreed to ask for an additional $90,000. That would still, in my view, be remarkably low compensation for a man denied the best years of his life. If the state runs over a man with a state truck, he can recover hundreds of thousands in damages. However, if prosecutors and police wrongly deny a man a full life, he is given only $5000 a year?
Let’s do the math. With 23 years in jail, Stinson has a right for compensation for roughly 8395 days. At $25,000, he will receive $2.90 per day. Even at $100,000, that would amount to roughly $12 a day to sit in prison for the majority of his life.
IP reports that “[o]f the 27 states with compensation laws, Wisconsin’s compensation law has the second-lowest maximum dollar amount. New Hampshire caps compensation at $20,000.”
The result that there is little financial or political deterrent to unjust convictions. Part of the value of these awards is that the public takes note of these cases and asks for an accounting. Some prosecutors have been accused of exercising little discretion or judgment in weak cases — simply leaving it to jurors and minimizing their own role. This is not to disparage most police and prosecutors who work hard to “make the case” and do justice. However, putting aside the obvious obligation to pay someone for a wrong committed against them, the compensation for false convictions is one of the few deterrents in this area. It forces the public to internalize — and recognize — part of the cost of wrongful convictions.
Ione F. Cyshosz was found the morning after disappearing from a Bingo event. She had been beaten and her corpse showed bite marks on the torso. Stinson was arrested in the area after saying the teeth of the then-21-year-old matched the bite marks.
The conviction was heralded at the time as the first “bite mark” case to go to verdict in the state — a controversial basis for conviction that has been discredited in past cases. The conviction was secured by Dr. L. Thomas Johnson, a forensic odontologist and prosecutor (and now law professor) Daniel Blinka. Blinka, shown right, now teaches The Constitution and Criminal Investigations at Marquette Law School. Despite DNA evidence disproving bite mark evidence (which was the only direct evidence used for conviction), Blinka and Johnson insist that they still have no doubt about his guilt.
The prosecutors also insist that Stinson was given a fair trial and now have six-months to decide whether to recharge and retry Stinson.