malicious prosecution

McDonough v. Smith is a case about forgery, deceit, fabricated evidence…and statute of limitations.

In this case the Supreme Court held 6-3 that the statute of limitations for a fabrication of evidence claim begins running upon acquittal. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing the statute of limitations should begin running earlier.

Edward McDonough, commissioner of the county board of elections, processed forged absentee ballots, which he claimed he didn’t know were forged. Youel Smith was appointed to investigate and prosecute the matter. McDonough claims Smith “falsified affidavits, coached witnesses to lie, and orchestrated a suspect DNA analysis to link McDonough to relevant ballot envelopes.” The first trial involving McDonough ended in a mistrial. He was acquitted in a second trial.

The issue the Supreme Court will decide in McDonough v. Smith is whether the statute of limitations for a due process fabrication of evidence claim begins to run when the criminal proceedings terminate in the defendant’s favor, or when the defendant becomes aware of the tainted evidence and its improper use.

Edward McDonough, former Democratic Commissioner of Rensselaer County Board of Elections, approved forged absentee ballot applications which he claims he didn’t know had been falsified. Youel Smith investigated and prosecuted McDonough. McDonough claims Smith “engaged in an elaborate scheme to frame McDonough for the crimes by, among other things, fabricating evidence.” After two trials, McDonough was ultimately acquitted.

Just before three years passed since McDonough was acquitted he sued Smith under Section 1983 for violating his due process rights by fabricating evidence and using it against him. Section 1983 allows citizens to sue state and local government officials in federal court for constitutional violations.

In Manuel v. City of Joliet the Supreme Court held 6-2 that even after “legal process” (appearing before a judge) has occurred a person may bring a Fourth Amendment claim challenging pretrial detention. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief arguing that malicious prosecution claims cannot be brought under the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court didn’t address this issue in its decision.

Elijah Manuel was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance even though a field test and a lab test indicated his pills weren’t illegal drugs. A county court judge further detained Manuel based on a complaint inaccurately reporting the results of the field and lab tests. Forty-eight days later Manuel was released when another laboratory test cleared him.  

Elijah Manuel was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance even though a field test indicated his pills weren’t illegal drugs. About six weeks after his arrest he was released when a state crime laboratory test cleared him.  

If Manuel would have brought a timely false arrest claim it is almost certain he would have won. But such a claim would not have been timely because Manuel didn’t sue within two years of being arrested or charged.