A Wisconsin court has delayed a defendant`s criminal appeal for over four years in a seeming attempt to prevent his federal lawsuit to move forward against the cops for use of excessive force during the search of his house, and for falsifying court documents relating to that search. The federal judge said his lawsuit had merit, but that it had to “halt” the case because it could interfere with his pending criminal appeal.
The case goes back to 2016, when Marvin Carter and his girlfriend and her small children were pulled out of bed by the cops — at gunpoint — while they executed a “no-knock” warrant. That means instead of knocking and allowing someone to open the door, the cops kicked it in and swarmed the house with tactical weapons. When Carter asked to see the warrant the cops said they had, one of them “read” it to Carter but refused to let him see it. No warrant was ever produced in subsequent proceedings.
The Federal Lawsuit
Carter was arrested on drug and firearm charges. He went to trial in 2017 but then pled guilty mid-trial. He also filed the lawsuit in federal court at around the same time, claiming the use of excessive force during the search, and the fabrication of court records for the alleged phony search warrant.
Judge Stadtmueller of the U.S. Dist. Court for the Eastern Dist. of Wisconsin reviewed the lawsuit and said it had merit. But the judge had to put it on hold because of a rule that any lawsuit that could undo a criminal conviction must be dismissed. Thus, the judge said the lawsuit would be “halted” until the resolution of Carter`s criminal appeal.
That rule was announced in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), where the U.S. Supreme Court held that a lawsuit may not be pursued if its success would undermine or undo the validity of a criminal conviction or sentence. That`s called the “Heck Rule.”
It`s an unfair rule that allows cops (and other law enforcement personnel) to get away with violating a defendant`s constitutional rights, in many cases, because they know a conviction will block any federal lawsuit. Even a minor conviction is enough.
Why the Court Delayed the Appeal
And the Wisconsin cops got a conviction here, but the prosecutor messed up. At sentencing, the prosecutor urged the court to impose a higher sentence than what was in the plea agreement. This breached the plea agreement, which said the prosecutor would recommend a lower sentence. He didn`t do that, and the judge went 50% over the plea agreement`s sentence. The Supreme Court held more than 50 years ago that this kind of underhanded move by prosecutors isn`t allowed. Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257 (1971).
So Carter appealed. That`s when the state court slammed on the brakes with his appeal. Remember that the federal court put Carter`s lawsuit on hold, pending the outcome of his state criminal appeal. If he would be successful in that appeal, his conviction would be undone and his lawsuit could proceed.
But the state court stopped all of this by delaying his appeal. The court granted a total of 15 extensions of times, and not once did it give a reason for why it did so. Every time a deadline came up, it got extended. 15 times!
The delay was enough for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to finally say that it violated Carter`s constitutional rights, and allowed him to file his appeal claims in federal court under habeas corpus proceedings. The court said the state court “failed” Carter, but I don`t think that`s accurate. To fail someone requires at a minimum some that there was some sort of effort made toward a positive result. The state in Carter`s case didn`t just fail him. It actively blocked his attempts to hold law enforcement accountable through a federal civil rights lawsuit. That`s not failure but a miscarriage of justice.
Read the case at Carter v. Kuspa, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140372 (E.D. Wis. Aug. 31, 2017).