Skip navigation

Articles about Wrongful Convictions

Rhode Island Prisoner Awarded $3,900 for False Imprisonment

A Rhode Island jury awarded a prisoner $3,900 for false imprisonment on April 21, 2004. In August 1994, William Ross was incarcerated and held by the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) on a minor larceny charge.

During his incarceration, the State of Oklahoma issued a warrant for his arrest ...

Ohio Appeals Court Upholds $7,820 Award for 70 Days Unlawful Incarceration

By Robert H. Woodman

The Tenth District Court of Appeals of Ohio upheld a $7,820 damages award by the Ohio Court of Claims to Alton M. Stroud, a prisoner of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DORC). In its 2-1 decision, the appeals court found that DORC “may be ...

Heck Doesn't Apply to Parole Revocation Incarceration Without Attorney or Hearing

The Tenth Circuit court of appeals has held that a prisoner who claims he was denied an attorney or court hearing for 73 days while awaiting extradition for parole revocation need not show that the revocation had been reversed before filing suit.

Steven Roy French, an Oklahoma state prisoner, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging his civil rights were violated when he was held in jail for 73 days without access to an attorney or the courts. French was convicted in Oklahoma, but was serving out his parole in Colorado. On November 13, 2001, he was summoned to his parole officer's office. There she accused him of having flushed" his system of drugs to beat a urinalysis. She arrested him for parole violation.

For the following 73 days, Adams was incarcerated at the Adams County Detention Center in Colorado, awaiting extradition to Oklahoma for parole revocation proceedings. Despite repeated requests, he was neither informed of the specific reason for his incarceration, allowed to meet with an attorney, nor given a hearing. French wrote a local public defender who secured his release. Later he filed suit.

The district court dismissed Fench's suit, reasoning that the suit, if successful, necessarily ...

Summary Judgment Reversed In Los Angeles Jail Over-Detention Suit

In a suit for damages against Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca for over detention of jail prisoners court-ordered for release, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that summary judgment for Baca was not available where the facts showed a practice of deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of the affected prisoners.

Rodney Berry was arrested on October 5, 2000 and held for a trial that ended in early February, 2001 with a hung jury. The Superior Court ordered the charges dropped and authorized Berry's release on February 1, 2001 at 11:30 a.m. On February 2, at 2:02 p.m., Berry was released 26 ½ hours after the court's order and 16 ½ hours after his release order was entered into the computerized Automated Justice Information System. Two other prisoners, Anthony Hart and Roger Mortimer, had similar court-ordered releases from the Los Angeles County Jail but were delayed for over 29 hours each. All three sued Baca in U.S. District Court (C.D. Cal.) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of their civil rights.

The district court granted summary judgment to Baca, relying on Brass v. County of Los Angeles, 328 F.3d 1192 (9th Cir. 2003) as virtually indistinguishable" ...

Misidentification Requires Washington Jail Officials Take Reasonable Steps to Confirm Identity

The Washington State Supreme Court has held jail personnel have a duty to take steps to promptly release a detainee once they know or should know, based on information provided to them that the person they are holding is not the person named in an arrest warrant.

This matter was before the Court in consolidated appeals resulting from lawsuits filed by two persons arrested by warrant and held in the Pierce County Jail in Tacoma, Washington. The Pierce County Superior Court granted jail officials summary judgment. The Division Two Court of Appeals reversed the orders granting summary judgment on the negligence and false imprisonment claims, but affirmed dismissal of the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. See: Statler v. State, 113 Wa.App. 1, 51 P.3d 837 (2002).

The Supreme Court found that Kevin Lee Statler was arrested by a Washington State Patrol trooper under a Pierce County warrant issued for Robert John Statler, which listed, "Kevin Lee Statler" as an alias. Kevin adamantly asserted he was not the person named in the warrant. His physical appearance differed from the individual described in the warrant by 27 pounds, four inches in height, three years in birth date and eye color. Confronted with ...

FTCA Claims for Sentence Miscalculation Accrues Upon Reversal; Statute of Limitations Tolled

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a civil action under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FICA) for negligently calculating a federal prisoner's release date, or otherwise wrongfully imprisoning the prisoner, does not accrue until the prisoner has established, in a direct or collateral attack on his imprisonment, that he is entitled to release from custody.

This action was brought by former federal prisoner Darrow Erlin, alleging federal officials negligently calculated his release date, resulting in him serving 311 days after he should have been released. The Northern District of California dismissed the suit, holding that Erlin's cause of action occurred on or about May 9, 1996, when the United States Parole Commission issued the warrant based on the miscalculated parole expiration. Based on that, the court held that the two-year limitations period on FTCA suits expired before Erlin filed his claim on November 1, 1998.

The Ninth Circuit found that because Erlin committed crimes both before and after the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, and he kept committing new ones while still under sentence for the old ones, the computation of his release date was complex. Nonetheless, Erlin prevailed on a federal habeas corpus petition in the ...

$13,500 Damages Paid to Two Illegally Detained Washington DOC Prisoners

The Washington state Division of Risk Management (DRM) paid claims totaling $13,000 to two state prisoners who were illegally arrested and incarcerated by the Washington Department of Corrections. Michael Buffington had been sentenced in King County Superior Court to two months county jail for possession of heroin. The court's order ...

PLRA Physical Injury Rule Applied to Non-Prison Case

PLRA Physical Injury Rule Applied
to Non-Prison Case

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) applies to lawsuits that claim injuries suffered during custodial episodes, even if such custody occurred outside prison walls. Louis Napier was arrested for trespass by two Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff Deputies, who felt he was actually Jon Napier, who is Louis's brother. The charge was later nolle prossed. Louis Napier then filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging he suffered embarrassment and mental anguish from the mistaken arrest and imprisonment. The suit was filed while Napier was confined on an unrelated charge. The district court dismissed the action as frivolous, and Napier appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit Court stated a dismissal under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e) "applies to lawsuits involving (1) federal civil actions (2) brought by a prisoner (3) for mental and emotional injury (4) suffered while in custody." The new legal issue in this case is whether the fourth predicate is inclusive of injury suffered during the arrest of an individual on a charge unrelated to the present confinement.

In turning to decide if Napier was "in custody" at the time of his injury, the Court ...

No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witnesses, and Other Tyrannies of Our Times

by Dorothy Rabinowitz. 2003. Free Press, ISBN: 0-7432-2834-0

Review by Robert Woodman

"There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice." These words, uttered by Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, in 1742, inspire the title and the theme of Dorothy Rabinowitz's latest book. Rabinowitz, winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in commentary and a member of the editorial board and a culture critic for The Wall Street Journal, writes about the waves of hysteria that swept America in the 1980's and 1990's when reports of bizarre, ritualistic mass sex abuse of children by day care workers and others began surfacing in news media reports.

Rabinowitz tackles cases she wrote about in The Wall Street Journal. Her primary focus is on the terrible, blatant injustice done to the Amirault family of Malden, Massachusetts, but she also details the cases of Kelly Michaels, Grant Snowden, Dr. Patrick Griffin, John Carroll, and the mass roundup of an alleged sex ring in Wenatchee, Washington. She points out false accusations by vindictive or psychologically-disturbed persons (or, in Kelly Michaels' case, a misunderstanding blown out of proportion) combined with prosecutors' absolute refusal to ...

§ 1983 Disciplinary Challenge Available to Parolee Because Habeas Would Be Moot

§ 1983 Disciplinary Challenge Available To Parolee Because Habeas Would Be Moot

by John E. Dannenberg

The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a prisoner suing under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for damages resulting from unconstitutional procedures in an earlier disciplinary hearing would not be required instead to bring an action in habeas corpus, because since the prisoner had already been paroled, mootness would render habeas corpus unavailable.

Narvis Nonnette was convicted in a disciplinary hearing of stabbing another prisoner in a fight, and received 360 days loss of good-time credit plus 100 days in the hole. After exhausting administrative remedies claiming both release date miscalculation and denial of due process rights in the disciplinary proceedings, he filed a civil rights complaint requesting injunctive relief and damages. The U.S. District Court (C.D. Calif.) dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim because, since the claims challenged the validity of his (then continuing) confinement, they must be brought under habeas corpus instead, per Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Nonnette appealed.

Before his appeal was decided, Nonnette was routinely (albeit belatedly) paroled. This changed the legal landscape, implicating a newer Supreme Court case, Spencer v. Kemna, 523 ...