McDonough v. Smith addresses when the statute of limitations for a Section 1983 claim alleging fabrication of evidence in a criminal proceeding begins to run. Section 1983 claims are civil lawsuits seeking monetary damages and serve as an important safeguard that deters prosecutors from engaging in misconduct.
Edward McDonough was indicted in 2011, and in December 2015, he filed a Section 1983 lawsuit against the prosecution in his criminal case, alleging that during the grand jury proceedings in 2010 that led to his indictment, the prosecution presented false evidence and knowingly allowed witnesses to provided false testimony.
The claim was dismissed by the District Court for being beyond the 3-year statute of limitations. The District Court held that the statute of limitations began to run when he knew or should have known that evidence being used to prosecute him was false. McDonough argued that his claim accrued upon his acquittal from the criminal charges, but the Second Circuit affirmed.
In contrast, five courts of appeals have ruled that the statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims alleging fabrication of evidence begins to run when the criminal proceeding terminates in favor of the defendant—and not when the defendant knew or should have known of the tainted evidence and its use. The Supreme Court will resolve this circuit split in McDonough.
The Brennan Center, the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, the ACLU, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, represented by Covington & Burling, LLP, filed an amicus brief arguing that the Second Circuit’s ruling interferes with the fair and efficient administration of criminal justice and should be overturned. Because criminal proceedings often take years to conclude, adhering to the Second Circuit’s rule would force many defendants to make a difficult choice: 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.
The Brennan Center is a non-profit, nonpartisan public policy and law institute that seeks to secure our nation’s promise of “equal justice for all” by creating a rational, effective, and fair criminal justice system. The Brennan Center advocates for reshaping laws and public policies that undermine this vision.
For more read the amicus brief here.