Criminal Law Reform issue image

McDonough v. Smith

Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: June 12, 2019

What's at Stake

When must a person file a Section 1983 civil rights case based on fabrication of evidence in a criminal proceeding?


The ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at NYU School of Law, and the Brennan Center for Justice together filed an amicus brief arguing that a Section 1983 claim based on fabrication of evidence accrues (and therefore the statute of limitations begins to run) upon the conclusion of criminal proceedings in the defendant’s favor – not, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held below, when the defendant learns of the fabrication of the evidence and its use against him in criminal proceedings. The Second Circuit’s rule means that the limitations period for filing a Section 1983 begins to run for many defendants at the start of criminal proceedings, when defendants are indicted and arrested and learn of the evidence being used against them. Starting the limitations period for a fabrication-of-evidence claim so early means that many defendants are forced to make a difficult choice: they must either forgo bringing a Section 1983 suit or initiate parallel civil actions while their criminal proceedings are ongoing. Regardless of which choice a defendant makes, the justice system and our trust in it suffer. Discouraging meritorious Section 1983 suits undermines the important role civil rights suits play in deterring prosecutorial misconduct. And if a criminal defendant files a Section 1983 suit while criminal proceedings are ongoing, he risks having parallel civil proceedings interfere with the fair and efficient administration of his criminal proceeding. We therefore urged the Supreme Court to reverse the judgment of the Second Circuit.

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