Griffin v. Baltimore Police Department et al
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Judge J. Frederick Motz on 5/21/2014. (aos, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
BALTIMORE POLICE DEPARTMENT
Civil No. – JFM-13-3387
Plaintiff has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging that defendants violated
his federal constitutional rights (as articulated in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) and
Goodwin v. Metts, 885 F.2d 157 (4th Cir. 1989)), by failing to disclose to him exculpatory
evidence. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that plaintiff’s conviction has
not been set aside and that the action is therefore barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477
(1994). Defendants’ motion will be granted.
Plaintiff was convicted of the murder of James William Wise and gun related charges on
April 22, 1981. On February 2, 2012, plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to Reopen Post
Conviction and for Post Conviction Relief based upon information that he had discovered in
police files he obtained pursuant to the Maryland Public Information Act indicating that two
eyewitnesses failed to identify him in three photo arrays conducted by the police and other
witness statements that contradicted the eyewitness testimony introduced at his trial. On May
23, 2012, the Honorable Gail Rasin of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, indicated
that she was prepared to order a new trial, and she granted an unopposed motion reducing
plaintiff’s sentenced to time served. Plaintiff was freed but placed on three years of
unsupervised probation. Plaintiff’s conviction remains standing.
Heck v. Humphrey held that a Section 1983 action arising out of an allegedly
unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment cannot be instituted unless the plaintiff proves that
the “conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order,
declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination or called into question
by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Id. at 486-87. Black letter application
of that holding clearly would entitle defendants to the dismissal they seek. However, the
continuing validity of the Heck holding as to prisoners who have been released from custody has
been drawn into question by the Supreme Court’s subsequent decision in Spencer v. Kemna, 523
U.S. 1, (1988). In Wilson v. Johnson, 535 F.3d 262 (4th Cir. 2008), the Fourth Circuit arguably
joined the circuit courts that are of the view that a plaintiff may obtain relief under Section 1983
even if she or he has not met the “favorable determination” requirement set by Heck.
Nevertheless, for three reasons I am of the view that Heck applies here and that plaintiff’s
Section 1983 claim is barred.
First, although plaintiff is no longer incarcerated, he presently is on probation. Although
this probation is unsupervised, he is still under certain obligations imposed upon him by the
terms of his probation. For example, were he to commit another violation of the law, he could be
prosecuted not only for that violation but also for a violation of probation. Arguably, therefore,
he still is “in custody” and therefore must seek habeas relief.
Second, plaintiff’s conviction remains standing. He had ample opportunity during the
thirty years he was incarcerated to file a state habeas petition and, if that petition were
unsuccessful, to file a federal Section 2255 action. Nothing prevented him from obtaining during
the period of his incarceration the information that led to the reduction of his sentence. Thus,
both theoretically and practically, he could have obtained state relief or, if that relief was not
granted, federal review of his claims.
Third, Wilson v. Johnson, upon plaintiff heavily relies, arose from the court’s perception
that the plaintiff there “would be left without any access to federal court if his Section 1983
claim was barred.” Here, as previously indicated, plaintiff had ample opportunity to seek federal
review of the claims that he asserts in his Section 1983 action prior to his release from
incarceration. Therefore, it is not clear that Wilson applies here. See Bishop v. County of Macon,
484 Fed. Appx. 753, 755 (4th Cir. 2012); Ballenger v. Owens, 515 Fed. Appx. 192, 195 (4th Cir.
A separate order of dismissal is being entered herewith.
Date: May 21, 2014
J. Frederick Motz
United States District Judge
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