Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Minnesota Supreme Court Declares "Exoneration-Compensation Statute" Unconstitutional

The Minnesota Supreme Court held that its reversal on appeal of a second degree manslaughter conviction, standing alone, did not qualify as an "exoneration" under Minn. Stat. § 590.11. Simultaneously, the court held that § 590.11 was irrational and violated the Constitutional Equal Protection provisions. The court severed § 590.11(1)(1)(i), in its entirety to remedy the violation.

Danna Back was convicted of second degree manslaughter in the 2007 shooting between two of her past lovers which left one of them dead. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that where Back did not possess or fire the gun, and she had no duty to protect or control either party, the conviction could not stand.

In 2014, the Minnesota legislature enacted the Exoneration-Compensation Statute, § 590.11, intending to compensate individuals who had served prison time under a wrongful conviction.

Back applied for the compensation. The Minnesota District Court held that back did not qualify because she had not been "exonerated" per § 590.11. the court of appeal reversed that denial and concluded that the statute violated constitutional Equal Protection rights because it was irrational. The statute required the prosecutor to dismiss the criminal charges in order to qualify for exoneration. Other Minnesota statutes prohibited dismissal of a case reversed on appeal, so Back could not satisfy the requirements.

The appellate court held that Back's situation was exactly the type of case intended for compensation. The court severed the prosecutorial-dismissal requirement from the unconstitutional statute, and concluded that Back satisfied the exoneration requirements.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reviewed the law and facts and determined that Back was not exonerated because § 590.11 required that the conviction must be vacated or reversed "AND" dismissed by the prosecutor. Since it was reversed by the supreme court but not dismissed by the prosecutor, Back had not been exonerated.

The supreme court also held that § 590.11 was unconstitutional because it was irrational. It was legally impossible to satisfy the terms of § 590.11(1)(1)(i) because they are mutually exclusive. By Minnesota statutes, if a conviction was reversed on appeal, the prosecutor lost any authority to dismiss it. Similarly, if the prosecutor dismissed the charge the court lost authority to reverse the non-existing conviction.

The supreme court agreed with the appellate court that the statute is unconstitutional because it is irrational and violates Equal Protection Rights. However, the supreme court held that the appellate court did not go for enough when it only severed the prosecutorial-dismissal requirement. The supreme court severed § 590.11(1)(1)(i) in its entirety.

Justices Lillehaug, Hudson, and Chutich concurred that the statute was unconstitutional, but dissented in the proper remedy. They agreed that the appellate court's remedy cured the violation where the supreme court's remedy does not.

See Back v. State of Minnesota, A15-1637, N.W. 2d (Minn. 2017).

Daniel J. Bellig, Joseph A. Gangi, Farrish Johnson Law Office, Chtd, Mankato, Minnesota represented Donna Back.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Back v. State of Minnesota