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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

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 the ...

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 attitude." ...

Congress Exempts from Taxation Awards to Wrongfully Convicted

by Derek Gilna

Congress has passed the wrongful Conviction Tax Act of 2015 with votes from both sides of the aisle, exempting the damage awarded granted the wrongfully convicted from federal tax liability.   According to the Innocence Project, a prisoner-rights organization who has contributed to the exoneration of dozens of wrongfully-convicted and imprisoned individuals, hailed the new law as "the right thing to do."

According to Marvin Anderson, an Innocence Project board member and a twenty-year prisoner who was finally cleared of rape by DNA evidence, said, " It's crazy that, after stealing years of a person's life, providing little if any help with readjusting to the outside world, the government would want to take away the money that is supposed to help the wrongfully convicted rebuild their lives.  As it is, too many states provide inadequate re-entry services for the wrongfully convicted.  It's as though we are supposed to just pick up from where we left off, but it doesn't work that way...I'm happy Congress passed this bill."

Rebecca Brown, Policy Director for the Innocence Project, noted that, "we must do more to address these reentry needs, and the Wrongful Conviction Tax Relief Act of 2015 is an important ...

$82,500 Damages to Detained American, Federal Judge Blasts ICE

By Christopher Zoukis

In a scathing opinion, Judge Jack B. Weinstein, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, awarded a wrongfully detained American citizen $82,500 in damages for false arrest and false imprisonment at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Davino Watson was born in Kingston, Jamaica November 17, 1984. Both of his parents were Jamaican citizens, but after living in America for several years, his father became an American citizen. Watson was 17-years-old at the time, and pursuant to immigration law, he became an American citizen at the same time as his father.

After spending several years in New York State Prison for robbery and drug convictions, Watson was set to be released. Unfortunately for him, the crack ICE deportation team stepped in, decided that he was not an American citizen, and initiated deportation proceedings against him. Based on the files of two Jamaican citizens who were not Watson's parents, ICE detained Watson for a total of 1,273 days before finally realizing that he was an American.

Watson was transferred from New York to Louisiana and eventually to Alabama during his three-and-a-half years of detention. He was eventually released in ...

Chicago Man Exonerated of Murder Awarded $13 Million after 22 Years in Prison

by Lonnie Burton

Following a trial that began on March 6, 2017, a federal jury awarded a former prisoner more than $13 million after he sued the City of Chicago, seven police officers and two Cook County prosecutors over his wrongful convictions for a 1992 double homicide.

Deon Patrick spent more than two decades in prison before prosecutors dismissed the charges against him in 2014. He filed his wrongful conviction suit in federal court that same year. The jury verdict came just four months after another Chicago man, Nathson “Nate” Fields, was awarded $22 million after spending more than 10 years on death row only to be later cleared of a 1984 double murder. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.30].

Court records show that Jeffrey Lassiter, a drug dealer, and Sharon Haugabook, a prostitute, were shot and killed in Lassiter’s apartment on November 16, 1992. Weeks later, police claimed they had arrested three people for drug possession, two of whom voluntarily implicated themselves, along with Patrick and several others, in the murders. Patrick was arrested the same day, after which the police said a witness picked him out of a lineup as one of the people she saw leaving the ...

Nevada: Woman Freed After 35 Years Sues for Wrongful Murder Conviction

by Lonnie Burton

Homophobic police officers in Reno, Nevada framed a mentally ill woman for a murder she did not commit by labeling her a lesbian, withholding evidence and coercing a confession from her, her attorneys claimed in a lawsuit filed in August 2016. The woman spent 35 years in prison until 2014, when DNA evidence finally cleared her of a 1976 murder.

Cathy Woods, now 67, was arrested after she “confessed” to killing a nursing student while confined in a mental institution. After Woods’ mental health counselor broke patient-doctor confidentiality by reporting Woods to the police, the complaint alleges, she was tried and convicted in 1980 for killing 19-year-old Michelle Mitchell, a freshman at the University of Nevada in Reno. Woods was convicted again in 1985 after the state Supreme Court ordered a new trial in her case.

During her decades in prison, Woods, who was reportedly schizophrenic, maintained her innocence and recanted her confession, which she said was coerced in exchange for a better room at the mental hospital. A break came in 2014, when a cigarette butt found at the scene of the crime was tested for DNA. The test results revealed that a San Francisco-area serial ...

Illegal 24-Day ICE Detention Nets Lawful Permanent Resident $99,000 Settlement

by Lonnie Burton

In 2008 a lawsuit filed by a Mexican citizen who had obtained lawful permanent resident status in the United States and was later detained while trying to return to the U.S. from Mexico was settled for $99,000. The settlement came after a failed government motion to dismiss ...

$10,000 Settlement for California Man Unlawfully Detained by ICE

by Lonnie Burton

On October 1, 2013, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, signed a stipulated order dismissing a lawsuit filed by a man who was unlawfully detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despite the ...

Lawful Sudanese Immigrant Receives $60,000 Settlement for Five Days Unlawful ICE Detention

by Lonnie Burton

On November 2, 2004, U.S. District Judge Charles K. Wolff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, signed an order approving the settlement in, and dismissing, a case of an Iowa man who was unlawfully held on an immigration detainer for five days. ...

Naturalized U.S. Citizen Receives $400,000 after Being Illegally Held by ICE for 71 Months

by Lonnie Burton

Rennison Vern Castillo served honorably in the United States Army. He received the National Defense Service Medal and an Army Service Ribbon. While serving the country, Castillo was sworn in as a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998. Castillo was honorably discharged from the Army in 2003. And ...