08 May 2006

Wrongful Conviction Remedies

Once again, the "shit happens" defense strikes, and an individual whom it appears very likely was harmed by malicious actions of someone involved in law enforcement that resulted in a conviction of first degree murder, is left with no remedy because the exact details of how this was accomplished is difficult to prove. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion describes in detail the outs by which the various parties involved escape liability.

Civil rights law needs fundamental revision along the line of the tort laws that apply in the private sector. Most importantly, governments need to be held vicariously liable for violations of civil rights committed by individuals acting as their agents or employees. This would create an strong incentive for governments to meaningfully self-police rogue individuals in their employ, and would provide individuals with a remedy when it is clear that someone violated their civil rights, even when proving exactly who did it is impossible.

In this case, someone fed a jailhouse snitch information from a police report which was used to produce a false confession. Someone offered to bribe a fellow inmate to testify claiming that a confession that wasn't made was in fact made by the defendant. Someone suppressed exculpatory evidence, including secret tape recordings that revealed that the defendant knew nothing about the crime they allegedly committed. Someone tainted witnesses before they gave evidence to the court and didn't fully disclose the extent of that taint.

The victim of these acts spent sixteen years in prison as a result. But, a combination of immunity doctrines and a lack of vicarious liability has held no one accountable. If no one is held responsible when gross misconduct wrongfully imprisons someone, than this kind of conduct will continue to occur.

Hat Tip to How Appealing.

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