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Seventh Circuit: Indiana Malicious Prosecution Claim Cognizable via § 1983

Seventh Circuit: Indiana Malicious Prosecution Claim Cognizable via § 1983

by Mark Wilson

On October 21, 2013, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of a former prisoner’s malicious prosecution claim.

While investigating a March 2001 burglary-arson at a high school in Frankton, Indiana, police officers, “without any lawful reason, decided that Billy Julian should be a suspect.” They coerced another suspect and other witnesses into fingering Julian. Police investigators “knew the accusations were false – the officers had fabricated them and fed them to the witnesses.”

Julian was criminally charged in April 2001, and convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison in March 2003. He later prevailed in a post-conviction appeal by proving that a key prosecution witness had lied about being at the crime scene with him. The witness was on house arrest and wearing a GPS monitor at the time, and the monitor indicated that he had not left his home on the night the crime occurred.

Julian was released from prison in 2006. After the state unsuccessfully appealed, prosecutors decided to retry him in December 2007.

Police threatened Julian in an effort to deter him from pursuing a malicious prosecution lawsuit, and his attorney advised him not to file suit until after the retrial. The charges were finally dismissed in July 2010, and Julian filed a complaint in federal court in November 2011.

The district court dismissed the suit, holding that it was time-barred and could not be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because Indiana law provided an adequate remedy for malicious prosecution claims.

The Seventh Circuit reversed. Citing Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), the appellate court first concluded that Julian’s cause of action accrued when the charges were dismissed in 2010, not when his conviction was reversed in 2006. Therefore, his 2011 complaint was filed within the applicable two-year statute of limitations.

The Court of Appeals also held that Julian’s malicious prosecution claim could be brought under § 1983 because Indiana law does not provide an adequate remedy for malicious prosecutions by state officers.

“After being released from prison in May 2006, Julian remained in limbo for more than four years,” the appellate court wrote. “Limbo is not as bad as hell, but it’s sufficiently bad that it can’t be written off completely. Yet that is what the defendants ask us to do: recognize no remedy for malicious prosecution by Indiana public officers, leaving the defendant remediless if he manages to avoid jail or prison for any of the time during which he’s being maliciously prosecuted.”

The Seventh Circuit further directed the district court to decide on remand if equitable estoppel prohibits the defendants from asserting a statute of limitations defense against Julian’s separate claim that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence in his case. See: Julian v. Hanna, 732 F.3d 842 (7th Cir. 2013).

The case remains pending on remand, with a trial date scheduled in May 2015.


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Related legal case

Julian v. Hanna