Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

When the Heck Does This Claim Accrue? Heck V. Humphrey's Footnote Seven and (Sec) 1983 Damages Suits for Illegal Search and Seizure

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

When the Heck Does This Claim Accrue? Heck V. Humphrey's Footnote Seven and (Sec) 1983 Damages Suits for Illegal Search and Seizure

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Police illegally search your house and uncover evidence against you. Perhaps the trial judge suppresses this evidence; perhaps the judge does not and you must seek appellate review. Regardless of the path, ultimately you successfully defend yourself against the criminal charges. You seek damages under 42 U.S.C. (sec) 1983(1) from the police for their unconstitutional conduct. The applicable Supreme Court case law says that no (sec) 1983 cause of action lies if success on that claim "would necessarily imply the invalidity of [the plaintiff's] conviction or sentence."2 As a counterexample, however, the Court discusses your specific complaint, illegal search, in a footnote:

For example, a suit for damages attributable to an allegedly unreasonable search may lie even if the challenged search produced evidence that was introduced in a state criminal trial resulting in the (sec) 1983 plaintiff's stilloutstanding conviction. Because of doctrines like independent source and inevitable diswvy, and especially harmless error, such a (sec) 1983 action, even if succesful, would not necessarily ply that the plaintiff's conviction was unlawful.3

Is your claim timely? It depends on which U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals governs your claim: some courts say that all illegal search claims accrue at the time of the search because no illegal search claim, by definition, "necessarily implies" the invalidity of the conviction;4 others say that the district court must determine whether success on the illegal search claim would imply the invalidity of the conviction.5 Of course, by starting the clock sooner, the statute of limitations expires sooner in the first group of courts, making otherwise justifiable (sec) 1983 damages unavailable to many of those plaintiffs.6

The history of (sec) 1983 supports the availability of damages for victims of unconstitutional conduct. This famous statute, Section I of the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871,(7) grew out of the Reconstruction-era effort to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment.8 The Supreme Court has identified the following three purposes of this legislation: to override certain state laws, to provide a remedy when state law is inadequate, and to provide a federal remedy when state law is practically unavailable even iftheoretically adequate.9 InMonroe v. Pape,10 the Court ruled that a plaintiff could state a claim for damages under (sec) 1983 against local officials.11 In Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics,12 the Court overcame the state-based limitations in the scope of (sec) 1983 by creating an analogous remedy against federal officials.13 For the purposes of this Note, Bivens actions and (sec) 1983 actions are analytically identical.14

The Court considers compensation via damages to be an important goal of (sec) 1983 actions.15 Although the Forty-Second Congress may not have specifically addressed damages, the Court has stated that Congress must have contemplated the availability of damages when framing the (sec) 1983 remedy. …

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