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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

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 ...

County Liable for Sheriff's Failure to Remove Invalid Warrant From Computer

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that Georgia Sheriffs are a county policymaker regarding their duties in the maintenence and recall of criminal warrants thus making the county liable in a § 1983 action for the Sheriff's failure to remove an invalid warrant from his computer database which resulted in a false arrest.

In 1985, Brian Grech was arrested for speeding and DUI in Clayton County, Georgia. He posted bond and returned home to Kentucky. His bond was revoked and a bench warrant issued. Upon learning of the missed court date he returned to Georgia, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a fine and probation. Grech was never informed of the warrant. In 1998, he was stopped for a traffic violation in Kentucky and police found the 1985 warrant still active. He spent 9 hours in jail before bonding out.

Grech filed suit in federal court against Clayton County, alleging that his civil rights were violated by his arrest on the invalid warrant that Clayton County had failed to recall. Among numerous state tort claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, false arrest, and false imprisonment, he claimed that his false arrest was also a violation of the Fourth ...

Florida Juveniles Get Lost among Transfer Shuffle, Extending Stays in Wasting Money

Florida Juveniles Get Lost among Transfer Shuffle, Extending Stays in
Wasting Money

By David M. Reutter

Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) regularly transfers its
wards among several programs, resulting in extended terms of incarceration,
which has unnecessarily cost taxpayers $20 million.

The transfers caused under-age offenders to restart a treatment program.
Critics decry a greater harm. The theft of adolescents that results in
juveniles remaining in a sometimes - violent environment long after they
should have been sent home.

The violence is not always at the hands of fellow residents. Often it is
at the hands of DJJ authorize theft. Since 1996, DJJ has been the most
egregious abuser of children in Florida was 661 confirmed cases of child
abuse and neglect.

Uncertain Custody Limits

Florida's criminal justice system treats children much different than its
adults. That system sentences adults to a specified sentence to be served
in jail or prison with a small portion clipped off for good behavior, in
most cases.

Juveniles, however, have no set sentence. Under the juvenile system, a
judge determines whether a child should be committed into DJJ's custody.
The commitment is not considered punishment, but is supposed to be for
treatment of ...

Japanese Man Awarded $500,000 For Being Held In Bahamas Prison For 8 Years Without A Court Hearing

Japanese Man Awarded $500,000 For Being Held In Bahamas Prison For 8 Years
Without A Court Hearing

In August 1992, Atain Takitota traveled from his home in Osaka, Japan to
Paradise Island, Bahamas. After losing about $7,500 in a casino, he
discovered that his luggage, including his passport and the remainder of
his money, had been stolen. Bahamas police arrested him later that night.
He was subsequently held in a Bahamas prison for 8 years and 2 months, in
part because he had amnesia and couldn't tell Bahamas authorities who he
was. The only justification offered by those authorities for holding
Takitota was that he was "an undesirable and his presence was not
conducive to the public good."

In November of 2002, the Bahamas Court of Appeal awarded Takitota $500,000
for his ordeal, saying that his being held for over 8 years was "particularly troubling."

See: Japanese Amnesiac awarded $500K for 8 years in Bahamas prison, http://www.

Mediation Costs Not Taxable in §1983 Suit

Mediation Costs Not Taxable in §1983 Suit

The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held that state officials named as defendants in a prisoner's civil rights suit could not be taxed costs for mediation. The decision reverses the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Cynthia E. Brisco-Wade, ...

Overt Act Unnecessary to Allege Conspiracy Claim in 7th Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that it is not necessary to allege an overt act to state a conspiracy claim. The court also held that dismissal of a prisoner's retaliation claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies was proper.

Wisconsin state prisoner Tony Walker brought suit against prison officials and a former Governor, alleging that defendants: conspired to confine him and other prisoners beyond their mandatory release dates; and retaliated against him for using the law library and for filing grievances complaining about prison conditions.

The district court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim, concluding that Walker's conspiracy claim must be dismissed because the complaint failed to allege an overt act, and complaints concerning the duration of a prisoner's confinement must be brought in a habeas corpus action. The dismissal of Walker's retaliation claim was based upon his failure to exhaust administrative remedies within the deadline provided by state law.

The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of Walker's conspiracy claim, noting that the Supreme Court held in Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A, 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992 (2002) that "there is no requirement in federal suits of pleading the facts or ...

Compensating the Wrongly Convicted, or Not

by Matthew T. Clarke

Hundreds of thousands of men and women are hidden from society—social failures convicted of felonies—behind concrete walls and razor wire in isolated parts of our country. Nestled among them are society's silenced victims—the wrongfully convicted.

Society is loath to admit its mistakes. Citizens would rather believe the police are trustworthy than accept they plant evidence. The community would rather believe that a criminal was captured and brought to justice than a crime remains unsolved. Prosecutors who have publicly accused a person of a crime are reluctant to admit a mistake. Indictments and press releases are the life-blood of public officials.

This bias is further magnified when a series of similar crimes occurs, causing community pressure on police, judges, and prosecutors to find and convict someone—anyone. Harried prosecutors manipulate police, forensic experts, and other witnesses to conform their testimony to the desired outcome. All this leads to conviction of the innocent along with the guilty. Once convicted, this injustice is seldom undone.

It is uncomfortable to believe that innocent people are in prison or worse—executed. Therefore, prosecutors, police, witnesses, judges, juries, victims and the media join in a great festival of public denial insisting-that wrongful convictions are ...

Gov. Ryan's Song

by Mumia Abu Jamal

Illinois Gov. George Ryan, in the last passing days of his first and only term, saved the best for last.

He sent shock waves across the nation when he issued four pardons to men sitting on the Condemned Units of the state's prison system, opening the doors of the dungeon for four men, one who sat in the shadow of the gallows for nearly two decades. Speaking in a soft Midwestern accent, his words were as damning as the death sentences that his orders negated: "The system is broken."

With these orders, he ushered four men-Stanley Howard, Madison Hobley, Aaron Patterson and Leroy Orange-from the darkest corners of the land into the light. Quoting a tale of that famed Illinoisan, Lincoln, he recalled the job of the nation's chief executive, who, reviewing execution orders for those who were convicted of violating the military code during the Civil War, asked one of his generals why one young man had no letters in his file from any who wished his life spared. The general, shrugging his shoulders matter-of-factly, said, "He's got no friends," Lincoln, lifting his pen, remarked, "He's got one friend," and pardoned the man from the ...