Michele Nethercott, director of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Innocence Project Clinic, says in ProPublica that Baltimore’s recent $9 million settlement of a wrongful imprisonment case may point to a shifting legal landscape, where such matters become easier to prove in federal court.
“It may not be as difficult now for plaintiffs [who are claiming wrongful imprisonment] to persuade federal jurors that the police did actually engage in misconduct,” Nethercott said.
The ProPublica article details the saga of James “J.J.” Owens, who was imprisoned for years for a murder he didn’t commit.
“Owens filed his lawsuit in 2011, but it was dismissed from federal court and his lawyers dropped out of the case,” according to the article. “In federal lawsuits like Owens’, it’s not enough to show that an innocent man was put in prison for a crime he didn’t commit; the defendant must also prove there was official misconduct that violated his constitutional rights. Winning on such civil rights claims is notoriously difficult.
“Owens won his appeal, and during settlement negotiations, which had stalled on and off for the last year, a series of decisions made it clear that jurors were fed up.”
Read the ProPublica article.
Read more about the Innocence Project Clinic in the Fall 2012 edition of the University of Baltimore Magazine.