MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A man seeking more than $67,000 from the state of Wisconsin for holding him in prison for more than a year after his sentence ended said Wednesday he had no reason to question the state when it kept him behind bars.
Robin Gavinski spent an extra 417 days in prison after Department of Corrections employees incorrectly made him serve two sentences one after the other rather than at the same time. The DOC discovered the mistake when Gavinski petitioned for early release in August 2012, and he was let out of prison the next day.
Gavinski, 52, sought money from the state Claims Board to cover legal fees and lost income.
“They file your paperwork and you do your time. It’s their authority,” Gavinski said. “You’re taking that as a legitimate, authoritative sentencing document.”
Gavinski pleaded no contest to fleeing police in a stolen car in 2004. He was on probation with multiple prior convictions, and the judge ordered him to serve the remainder of those sentences with his auto theft sentence. But a Corrections employee added the extra time to the end of his prison sentence. The mistake was overlooked by other Corrections employees.
Gavinski told the board the system for calculating sentences could lead to future mistakes and should be updated.
“Can anyone here fathom how they would feel if they lost 417 days of their life because someone has misinterpreted paperwork?” he asked.
Jonathan Nitti, an attorney for the Department of Corrections, recommended the state deny Gavinski’s request. He said such mistakes are rare and the department is immune from that type of claim. He also said Gavinski asked for too much.
Gavinski makes about $2,000 a year from his handyman business. He also works at Fiberdome in Lake Mills. But his attorney, Tim Kiefer, said Gavinski spent the added time making lower wages while working as a prisoner on work release.
Nitti put the onus on inmates to make sure their sentences are correct.
“I’m not blaming Mr. Gavinski in total, I’m just saying that there’s a portion of responsibility for an inmate whose liberty is at stake to at least vet” the sentence, Nitti said.
The board also heard the case of a man wrongfully convicted of raping an Oshkosh woman at knifepoint in 1991. Eight years later, authorities found evidence linking another man to the crime.
While the district attorney’s office in the case recommended the court vacate Joseph C. Frey’s conviction, it says it cannot comfortably state he’s innocent because it believes other scenarios could explain the DNA that exonerated Frey.
Frey sought $25,000 for the time he spent in prison, the most allowed under state law.
The Legislature considered bills last year to increase the maximum award for wrongful convictions, which Frey’s attorneys said was set more than 100 years ago. One of the bills would have increased the annual award for wrongful conviction to $50,000 and eliminated total payout limits. Neither bill passed this session.
It typically takes the board up to three weeks to issue a ruling on claims.