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Friday, April 16, 2010

Ind. Decisions - One Indiana case decided today by the 7th Circuit

In a ruling today, Chief Judge Easterbrook reverses a decision by then-district court judge David Hamilton, recently elevated to the 7th Circuit.

In Evans v. Poslon (SD Ind., Hamilton), a 5-page opinion, CJ Easterbrook writes:

Police burst into the home of Ty Evans to stop what they reasonably believed was his attempt to strangle someone to death. According to the officers, Evans resisted arrest and had to be subdued; according to Evans, he offered no resistance and was beaten mercilessly both before and after the officers gained custody of him. A state court convicted Evans of attempted murder and resisting arrest; he is serving a term of 71 years’ imprisonment. See Evans v. State, 855 N.E.2d 378 (Ind. App. 2006).

In this suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983, Evans accuses the officers of violating the fourth amendment by using excessive force during and after his arrest. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), bars this claim because Evans’s assertion that he did not oppose being taken into custody contradicts his conviction. Unless the resisting-arrest conviction is set aside, the district court concluded, Evans has no claim under §1983. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66067 (S.D. Ind. July 28, 2009).

The district court did not discuss Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007), doubtless because neither side cited it. But Wallace holds that a claim that accrues before a criminal conviction may and usually must be filed without regard to the conviction’s validity. The Court held that a claim asserting that a search or seizure violated the fourth amendment—and excessive force during an arrest is such a claim, see Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989)—accrues immediately. The prospect that charges will be filed, and a conviction ensue, does not postpone the claim’s accrual. Wallace added that a conviction does not un-accrue the claim, even if the arguments advanced to show a violation of the fourth amendment also imply the invalidity of the conviction. 549 U.S. at 392–93. Instead of dismissing the §1983 suit, the district judge should stay proceedings if the same issue may be resolved in the criminal prosecution (including a collateral attack). 549 U.S. at 393–94; see also Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n.8. * * *

Evans’s situation illustrates how a fourth-amendment claim can coexist with a valid conviction. He contends three things: (1) that he did not resist being taken into custody; (2) that the police used excessive force to effect custody; and (3) that the police beat him severely even after reducing him to custody. * * * Proposition (1) is incompatible with his conviction; any proceedings based on this contention must be stayed or dismissed under Wallace or Heck. But propositions (2) and (3) are entirely consistent with a conviction for resisting arrest. * * *

Evans, a prisoner proceeding without counsel, struggled to articulate his contentions in a way that would avoid problems under Heck. But this sort of difficulty, which was evident in Gilbert too, must not be confused with a desire to abandon propositions (2) and (3) if the court concludes (as it must) that proposition (1) cannot be maintained while the conviction stands.

Evans is entitled to an opportunity to prove that the defendants used unreasonable force during and after his arrest. The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 16, 2010 10:20 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions