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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

Los Angeles County Settles Overdetention Suits for $27 Million

by John E. Dannenberg


In the largest legal settlement in its history, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed in May, 2002 to pay $27 million to compensate 400,000 former jail prisoners who had been held on wrong warrants, held beyond their release dates or who had been inappropriately ...

Jail Over Detention From Lack of Release Policy Actionable Under Section 1983

An Indiana county jail's lack of policy for the eventual release of detainees arrested pursuant to a Body Attachment raised sufficient facts to defeat the sheriff's motion for summary judgment, thus allowing an overdetained prisoner's civil rights complaint to proceed to trial.

Shakidi Johnson was arrested pursuant to an Allen County Court Body Attachment for minor misdemeanors which required him to serve a total of 40 days in jail. However, he wasn't released until 18 days after his time had been served.

He sued for this overdetention under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, citing the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. At issue was what caused his extended stay, and whether that cause rose to the level of a constitutional violation.

Allen County Sheriff James Herman had authority under the court's writ of attachment to arrest Johnson and bring him to court. Herman, however, had no intrinsic authority to otherwise detain Johnson. After Johnson appeared and was sentenced, Herman had authority to hold him for 40 days, but not 58 days. But despite 14 written inquiries from Johnson to Herman as to when his release date was, or why he was still incarcerated, he got no responsive answer.

The problem turned out ...

Illinois Man Awarded $15 Million for 15 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

On October 29, 2001, a federal jury in Chicago awarded $15 million plus about $2 million in attorney fees to James Newsome, 45, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 15 years behind bars. It was the largest wrongful imprisonment verdict in Illinois history.

In 1979, Newsome was arrested ...

California Jury Awards $1 Million in Jail Rape

On November 20, 2001, a Los Angeles county jury returned a $1 million verdict to 39 year-old Jay Reynolds, a former jail detainee who was raped by his cellmates after a judge ordered his release from jail. Reynolds was arrested in March 1999, when a traffic stop by police showed ...

D.C. Wrongly Jails Mentally Ill Man for Two Years

D.C. Wrongly Jails Mentally Ill Man For Two Years

Joseph Heard, 42, was released from the Washington D.C. jail on August 13, 2001. He served nearly 2 years in solitary confinement in the jail's mental health unit. The problem is that all charges against him were dismissed nearly 2 years earlier.

Heard was arrested in November 1998 on a charge of unlawful entry at George Washington University. After several mental health evaluations, all finding Heard mentally unfit to stand trial, the charges against Heard were dismissed, and he was ordered released.

When federal marshals returned Heard to the jail from the court hearing at which Heard's release was ordered, they told jail guards that Heard's release order was on its way. The order never arrived, however, and jail guards never bothered to follow up.

Heard's file was then labeled inactive and archived. The mistake was not discovered until shortly before Heard's release when administrators were reviewing prisoner files for possible transfer to the federal prison system.

Heard was ultimately transferred to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C., where he at last might receive the mental health treatment he needs. Heard, a slight black man, reportedly believes he is related to ...

Mistakenly Released Prisoners Have No Due Process Rights

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has held that prisoners who were released on mandatory supervision then arrested as escaped prisoners and reincarcerated without a hearing had no right to due process.

Vincent Henderson, Daryelle Rexrode, and John Calella, were Maryland state prisoners who were released on mandatory supervision. Following their release, the Court of Appeals of Maryland (the court of last resort in the state of Maryland) decided Besears v. Wicker , 349 Md. 1 (1998), which involved the interpretation of the Maryland statutes governing the calculation of sentence "diminution credits". Thereafter, the defendants, who were high level law enforcement and prison officials, decided that their understanding of the rule in Wicker should be applied to recalculate the release date of prisoners who had already been released and prisoners whose recalculated release dates had not yet arrived should be reincarcerated. To facilitate the reincarceration, defendants issued retake warrants for escaped prisoners which resulted in the plaintiffs being arrested and incarcerated without a hearing.

Henderson filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, won, and won on the state's appeal. The plaintiffs were released after 14 to 18 days of incarceration. Plaintiffs then filed a federal civil ...

$147,000 Paid for 3-1/2 Hour Overdetention and Strip Search of Mistaken Arrestee

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict of $100,000 against the Little Rock, Arkansas police when, after a judge ordered the release of a mistakenly arrested woman, they failed to promptly do so.

Willie Mae Young was arrested by Little Rock police officer James Brown on a ...

Defendants Denied Summary Judgment in Wrongful Incarceration Suit

Defendants Denied Summary Judgment In Wrongful Incarceration Suit

An Indiana federal district court has partially denied summary judgment and the qualified immunity defense to defendants at the Allen County (Indiana) Jail in a case involving wrongful imprisonment.

Shakidi Johnson was arrested on contempt of court charges for failure to appear in two paternity suits filed against him in the Allen County Superior Court. Johnson was also charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest. The Allen Superior Court issued an order, called a "Body Attachment," instructing the Allen County Sheriff to arrest and hold Johnson "until you bring that person before the Judge to answer a contempt in not obeying an order of this court."

Johnson was arrested November 10, 1997, and after serving time for the contempt and resisting arrest charges he was scheduled to be released December 19, 1997. He was not released until January 6, 1998, despite having filed 14 inquiries with jail officials over 27 days, when his family contacted the court directly and obtained a release order.

Thereafter, Johnson filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his U.S. Constitutional rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth (substantive due process) Amendments.

The defendants responded with evidence ...

$3.54 Million Paid For Falsely Imprisoning Unconvicted Mentally-Incapacitated California Man For Two Years In New York

A mentally incapacitated misdemeanant detainee at the Los Angeles County, California, jail was unlawfully extradited to New York, where he was imprisoned for two years in the Green Haven Correctional Center without further legal process. During that time, his mother _ duly appointed as Conservator for his Person and Estate ...

Section 1983 Civil Rights Claims Not Barred by Kansas Tort Remedies

The Kansas Court of Appeals held that the existence of adequate state tort remedies did not bar claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and that the limitation period for § 1983 claims is two years.

Kansas prisoner James Gragg was entitled to release on April 28, 1996. After he was convicted, however, KAR 446124(g)(6) was amended, altering the calculation of good time credits and specifically depriving Gragg of some of his good time credits.

Gragg filed a petition for habeas corpus, arguing that the application of KAR 446124(g)(6) was an ex post facto law. The trial court agreed and ordered that Gragg's release date be recalculated. Despite that order, no recalculation was completed and Gragg remained in prison until July 27, 1996, forty-seven days beyond his release date.

On April 28, 1998, Gragg filed a state court § 1983 action against prison officials for holding him beyond his release date. The trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that Gragg's cause of action under § 1983 was barred because an adequate state remedy for false imprisonment was available and that a false imprisonment claim must be brought within one year.

Citing Zinermon v. Burch , 494 U.S. 113, ...