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Articles about Wrongful Convictions

County Liable for Trustee's Work; No Remedy for Illegal Detention

The court of appeals for the fifth circuit held that a county was properly liable where it did not reimburse a jail detainee for work he performed on public property. The court also held that a pretrial detainee's work as a trusty does not violate the thirteenth amendment when such ...

Private Prison Liable for Wrongful Imprisonment

A federal district court in Florida held that a private corporation which ran a county jail under contract was liable for a detainee's wrongful imprisonment. Thomas Blumel was arrested without a warrant after being accused of violating a restraining order. Blumel was then placed in the Hernando County Jail which was operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) under contract. After spending the night in jail Blumel appeared before a judge who did not appoint counsel or determine bail, instead the judge said he was in the "wrong court." Blumel spent another 30 days in jail before eventually appearing before a judge who dismissed the charge for lack of evidence and ordered Blumel released. Blumel then sued the county and CCA claiming his right to due process was violated when the county and CCA violated their constitutional duty to ensure that warrantless pre-trial detainees are detained only after a judicial determination of probable cause within the first 48 hours of arrest. He also claimed CCA was liable for negligence and false imprisonment.

CCA filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and the court denied the motion. The court held that jail and prison officials can be ...

Extending Release Date Violates Eighth Amendment

A federal district court in Illinois held that the eighth amendment is violated when a prisoner is held almost two years past his release date. Don Campbell, an Illinois state prisoner, was released from prison in 1986 to serve a two-year term of Mandatory Supervised Release (MSR). A few months later he was arrested and convicted for possessing a firearm. He was sentenced to two years in prison and was also declared an MSR violator. The state trial court ordered that he serve the remaining MSR term concurrently with the sentence for the new conviction. Once in prison Campbell allegedly violated disciplinary rules and in a three day period lost three years, three days of good conduct time. Suspecting the infractions would be used to illegally lengthen his sentence, Campbell wrote prison officials who told him his release date was in 1987. Later, they told him his release date was in 1990.

Finding no satisfaction with the responses of prison officials, Campbell filed a writ of habeas corpus in state court. In an unpublished ruling the Illinois appeals court found that Campbell had been held past his minimum sentence. The court found that Campbell should have been released in 1988 ...

True Lies in Philly

Five current or former police officers from the 39th District of North Philadelphia were indicted by a federal grand jury this past February, accused of framing dozens of Philadelphians. The indictment accuses the officers of warrant less searches both inside and outside their district, during which they stole money, drugs and guns, beating handcuffed suspects, falsifying reports and records to hide evidence of their illegal searches and seizures, and maintaining a secret stash of drugs and narcotics paraphernalia which they used to "flake" (falsely accuse) individuals of drug dealing or possession. The attorney for one of the officers, Steven Brown, says his client would quickly sign a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. He says that Brown had acknowledged the wrongdoing and was willing to admit to all of the charges.

One case is illustrative of how Brown and his fellow officers operated. In 1988 Brown went to a judge to obtain a warrant to search Joe's Steak and Hoagie for suspected drugs. In order to establish probable cause he told the judge that while working undercover he observed a teenager sell drugs at a school, and then go to the steak house and hand the money over to the proprietor. ...

IL DOC Confinement Policy Illegal

The director of the Illinois DOC (IDOC) has promulgated a regulation under which all prisoners that it receives must be held for at least 60 days before they are released. Ronald Rooding was convicted and sentenced to one year in jail. After deducting good time and earned time he should have served a total of 92 days in confinement. When he was transferred from the Cook County jail to an IDOC facility he had 21 days remaining to serve. Instead, the IDOC calculated his release at 60 days after he arrived in their custody. A week after he should have been released he filed a writ of habeas corpus in Cook County Circuit Court. The court granted the Writ and issued an order directing Roodings immediate release from custody. The court denied the states motion for reconsideration and refused to stay its ruling pending an appeal. Despite the fact that the court had granted the writ on December 22, 1993,  Rooding was not released until January 6, 1994, the day after a state appeals court denied an emergency motion to stay the lower court ruling.

Rooding then filed suit in federal court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that his ...

The Forgotten Crime Victim

In the seemingly unending clamor for revenge against people in prison and those accused of committing a crime, a particularly vulnerable, unchampioned, group remain overlooked. Casualties of America's "War On Crime," a growing number of people have lost their lives to the unchecked discretion of judges, prosecutors, and police, and the indifference of the public. There are no fund-raisers, government resources, rallies, or lobbyists, and little hope for them. Caught between the hidden agendas of politicians, the media, and special interest groups on one hand, and the public's fear of crime on the other, the wrongfully convicted person is the forgotten crime victim.

In their book, In Spite of Innocence, Michael Radelet, Professor of Sociology at the University of Florida, and Hugo Bedau, Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University, feature 400 cases in which an innocent man or woman was sentenced to death. By conservative estimates, five-percent of the people in California prisons are innocent. With more and more limited state funds being sucked into the blackhole of the prison building guarding-maintaining complex, less money is allocated to provide attorneys, investigators, experts, and other services to indigent persons charged with a criminal offense. The majority of criminal defendants are poor, ...

Prisoners Have Right to Prompt Sentence Computation

David Plumb is an Oregon state prisoner. He filed suit under § 1983 claiming that his right to due process under the fourteenth amendment and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the eighth amendment were violated by state and county officials. He claimed that they delayed his receiving Credit for Time Served (CTS) in a county jail which resulted in his being wrongfully imprisoned for 83 days after the date on which he should have been released. The court rejected the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation granting the state and county's motion for summary judgement when it ruled that the county was not entitled to qualified immunity and that Plumb's eighth and fourteenth amendment rights were indeed violated.

Plumb had spent 83 days in county jail prior to being sent to the Oregon DOC to serve his 12 month sentence. He asked state authorities to credit him with his 83 days CTS. They said that they would credit him with any CTS he could get the county officials to certify. Plumb wrote the county officials several times in order to certify his jail time and return it to his captors, the Oregon DOC. The county ...

BOP Liable for Recalculating Sentence

Kent Alexander is a former federal prisoner. In 1986 he was released after serving a three year federal sentence. Eighty days later he was arrested for "violation of parole" and placed in FCI Tucson. The prison administrative systems manager, Luis Rivera, told Alexander that the BOP had recalculated his previously completed sentence and extended it by 245 days claiming that the time he had spent in a German jail awaiting extradition to the US did not count against his sentence as they had previously determined.

Several times after his reincarceration Alexander requested that Rivera and William Perrill, the warden, investigate the matter. Alexander provided them with certified court documents entitling him to the jail credits and German court orders denying him release on bail due to the US extradition request. The recalculation of Alexander's sentence had been made by the Bureau of Prison's (BOP) central office in Washington D.C. Rivera and Perrill made no inquiries, conducted no investigation, did not forward the documents to the BOP central office and made no effort to determine if the BOP was aware of all the facts submitted by Alexander.

After administrative remedies proved unsuccessful, Alexander filed, and was granted, a writ of habeas ...

Section 1983 Proper Remedy for Illegal Confinement

Spencer Parker is a Texas state prisoner. He filed suit under § 1983 claiming he was arrested and indicted for a burglary even though no evidence linked him to the crime. After nine months in jail the charges were dropped and he was released. While in jail he had suffered severe injuries. The district court dismissed Parker's suit as being frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (d), the in forma pauperis (IFP) statute.

The court of appeals for the fifth circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded.

The appeals court gives a detailed discussion of the difference between dismissals under § 1915 (d) (frivolous with no arguable basis in fact or law) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (b) (6) (failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted). The appeals court reviews § 1915 (d) dismissals for abuse of discretion by the lower court.

The district court had dismissed Parker's suit by ruling that because he was challenging the validity of his confinement his only remedy under law was the writ of habeas corpus. The appeals court disagreed. It holds that because Parker is not challenging his present confinement he is free to use § 1983 to seek ...

Prison Officials Liable for Holding Inmate Past Release Date

Gentry Slone is a Missouri state prisoner. He was sentenced to prison and once in prison his sentencing judge suspended Slone's sentence, effective December 21, 1989, and placed him on probation. The state did not appeal the judges order which then became final and non appealable on December 11, 1989.

Prison officials wrote to the judge to inform him they had decided not to release Slone because they did not believe Missouri statutes authorized his release. The judge told them Slone's release was indeed authorized and that he expected the DOC to execute his order. Eight months after Slone should have been released the court convened a court hearing, had Slone brought to court and released him from the court.

Slone then filed suit under § 1983 contending that prison officials had violated his right to due process. Prison officials sought summary judgement on qualified immunity which the district court denied. The court of appeals affirmed the denial of qualified immunity and remanded the case for trial.

The appeals court gives an explanation of the qualified immunity doctrine. The court held that as soon as the state's judge's order releasing Slone became nonappealable the state lost its lawful authority to ...