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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

Tennessee Drug Court Judge Imprisons Participants for Smoking Cigarettes

by Monte McCoin

In November 2017, Hamilton County, Tennessee Judge Tom Greenholtz sent several drug court participants to jail for a night after their drug tests came back positive – for nicotine.

“We routinely test for nicotine as we do for other controlled substances,” Greenholtz told Chattanooga TV station News Channel 9. “It shows how serious we are about combatting this.”

Ignoring the fact that nicotine is not a controlled substance and smoking cigarettes is not a crime, the judge said he punished defendants for smoking because he thought it would give them a “better chance at life.”

Indeed, a Columbia University study, published in 2017, found that 11 percent of people who kept smoking while in recovery programs relapsed, compared with around 8 percent who stopped smoking during treatment.

PLN has previously reported on growing scrutiny regarding drug court programs. For 20 years, they have sought to reduce illegal drug use by mandating substance abuse treatment within an overburdened criminal justice system that is generally more punitive than treatment-oriented. However, rather than diverting defendants to drug courts who otherwise would have gone to prison, participants tend to be those who would have received non-prison sentences anyway ...

$111,000 Settlement for Wrongfully Incarcerated Ohio Prisoner

On June 12, 2017, the Ohio Controlling Board voted to settle a wrongful incarceration suit brought by a man whom prosecutors had called a “major supplier” of cocaine, after a judge ignored the reversal of his conviction by an appellate court and kept him in prison.

Frank C. Davis was ...

North Carolina Brothers Settle Lawsuit Over 31 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

by Matt Clarke

On April 11, 2017, two North Carolina brothers who had been wrongfully convicted and spent 31 years in prison before being exonerated of a rape-murder by DNA evidence moved to dismiss their lawsuit against the government agencies and law enforcement officers complicit in their wrongful convictions, following ...

Canada to Apologize, Pay $10.5 Million to Former Guantanamo Detainee

by Christopher Zoukis

The Canadian government has agreed to pay $10.5 million to Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as an enemy combatant for over a decade. Canadian officials also agreed to apologize to Khadr for his ...

A NY Supreme Court Certifies for Persons Held on ICE Detainers Past Scheduled Release.

A New York Supreme Court certified a class in a lawsuit alleging the New York Department of Corrections (DOC) falsely imprisoned over 9,000 persons with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. The class consists of all persons who have been unlawfully detained in connection with said ICE detainers in New York City jails after all other conditions for their release had been satisfied.

Oscar Onadia was arrested in NYC on December 10, 2008 for unlicensed driving. He was sentenced to five days of incarceration on the prior charge, and bail was set at $100 on the December 10, 2008 charge. On December 12, 2008, after Onadia’s sentence was completed, he attempted to bail out on the most recent charge, but his bail was refused because ICE had filed an investigative detainer and requested that DOC hold Onadia for up to 48 hours on the detainer.

Onadia wasn’t released until January 23, 2009, 42 days after his scheduled release. He filed a civil lawsuit against DOC, in which he alleged that his extended detention based solely on an ICE investigative detainer constituted false imprisonment and unreasonable seizure. In his discovery he learned that more than 9,000 other detainees ...

$315,00 to Louisiana Man Imprisoned, Deported

by Lonnie Burton

In 2015 the United States government agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a Mexican national who had been a U.S. citizen for six years before Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials rounded him up, threw him in jail for 87 days, then deported him to Mexico where he had no family. The parties agreed to settle the case for $315,000, which does not include compensation for the three years the man was essentially "exiled" in Mexico.

Andres Robles Gonzalez -- identified in court documents as Robles -- became a U.S. citizen on June 13, 2002, when he was just 13 years old. Robles had-been living in the U.S nearly all of his life, since the age of six. In 2008, at age 19, Robles was "unlawfully arrested, detained, prosecuted, and deported" to Mexico by ICE agents, despite the "objectively verifiable fact" that Robles was a U.S. citizen, according to documents filed by Robles' attorneys. As part of the deportation process, Robles was held in jail for 87 days. No reason was given why ICE did not recognize that Robles was a U.S. citizen, and court records merely state that "ICE took ...

$320,000 Settlement in Wrongful Imprisonment Case

by Christopher Zoukis

A federal lawsuit alleging wrongful arrest and imprisonment by the LAPD settled for $320,000 on January 16, 2007.

The case involved the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla, who was shot and killed outside her Sun Valley, California home. Puebla was murdered just 11 days after she testified against Jose Ledesma in a gang murder prosecution. Puebla did not testify against Mario Catalan, who was also charged for the gang murder.

The evidence obtained in Puebla's death investigation indicated that she was killed in retaliation for her testimony. The suspected shooter was described by an eyewitness as 5'8", dark skinned, chubby and dressed like a gang member. He was seen driving a black Chevy Malibu with tinted windows. An informant told police that the suspect was named Juan and drove a white Ford F150.

The eyewitness identified Juan Catalan as the shooter in a photo lineup. Catalan, brother of Mario Catalan, was arrested for Puebla's murder.

But the LAPD didn't investigate Catalan beyond the photo lineup. Had they done so, they would have discovered that he was not a gang member, and that he had a rock solid alibi. He was at a Los ...

Sixth Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment Dismissal in Lawsuit Filed by Man Wrongfully Convicted of Arson, Murder

On September 1, 2016, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed a district court order dismissing most of a lawsuit filed by a man who spent 26 years in prison for an arson and murder he didn't commit.

In 1986, David Gavitt was sentenced to life in prison after a Michigan jury found him guilty of arson and felony murder, charges that stemmed from a house fire that took the lives of Gavitt's wife and two daughters. Gavitt was suspected, and later convicted of the charges, based on burn patterns the arson. investigators thought to indicate a fire that was set intentionally.

In September 2011, a motion was filed on Gavitt's behalf by the University of Michigan Law School's Innocence Clinic seeking relief from his judgment and sentence. The motion was based on advances in fire science research and investigation methods that tended to cast doubt on what was believed at the time to be the significance of the burn pattern evidence. In June 2012, a state court judge granted Gavitt's motion based on the newly discovered evidence, vacated the judgment, and released Gavitt from prison.

Two years later Gavitt filed a civil ...

Seventh Circuit: Falsely Accused Man, Conviction Expunged, Cannot Sue Anonymously

By Christopher Zoukis

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that a man who was falsely accused of a crime and later had his record expunged cannot sue for malicious prosecution anonymously.

John Doe alleged that he was arrested in the Village of Deerfield, Illinois based on false statements given to the police by Lisa Batchelder and Gary Zalesny. Although Village of Deerfield authorities became aware of the falsity of these statements, they refused to dismiss the case against Doe. Doe was acquitted, and his arrest and prosecution records were later expunged.

Doe anonymously sued Batchelder, Zalesny and the Village of Deerfield for violation of his right to equal protection and for malicious prosecution under Illinois state law. Doe claimed that his arrest and prosecution were "conducted in retaliation for a previous lawsuit he filed against a Village of Deerfield police officer."

The defendants all moved for dismissal of the suit for failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(a), which requires the true names of the parties in the caption of a lawsuit. The District Court granted the dismissal without prejudice, and Doe appealed.

The appellate court first looked at whether ...

Man Wrongly Imprisoned on Death Row for 28 Years May Sue Ohio

Dale Johnston was convicted of murdering his stepdaughter and her boyfriend and sentenced to death. The decision of a three-judge panel in 1984 was based in part on testimony from a hypnotized witness. He always denied having had an affair with his stepdaughter and having murdered them in a jealous rage--the prosecutor's theory of the case.

In 1993, Johnson filed a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit from death row. It was dismissed because Johnson was unable to prove his innocence.

In 2008, the actual murderer confessed to the crimes. In 2012, Johnson was declared innocent by a county court. The judge ruled that he could seek compensation for wrongful imprisonment, but that ruling was soon overturned by an appeals court which held that he could not attempt to prove wrongful imprisonment a second time.

On October 28, 2015, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the ruling of the appeals court, holding that a 2003 statute retroactively authorizes Johnson to seek compensation. This allowed him to maintain his lawsuit.

Attorney Todd Long, who represents Johnson, called the ruling "a good step" and noted that state attorneys "have tried to raise every procedural roadblock that they can," adding, "I hope they change their ...