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Indict Or Get Off The Pot

Heck v. Humphrey and "Supervision" Pleas

In the criminal system there are generally two pleas: guilty and nolo contendere (no contest).  Both are convictions.  Many jurisdictions allow a person to plead to "supervision."  Here's how it works: Instead of pleading guilty or nolo, the person minds his ps and qs for a few months to a year. If he behaves, the charges against him are dismissed.  It's not a conviction as a matter of law, and absent an acquittal, it's as good as it gets.  Indeed, only the foolhardy would risk trial with a supervision plea on the table.

Anyhow, it's black letter law that someone who is convicted can't file a Section 1983 suit for the predicate conduct.  What of these "supervision" pleas?  Does Heck v. Humphrey bar someone who took such a deal from filing suit?  The Third Circuit today say, "Yes."  Gilles v. Davis, 04-2542 at 26-29.  (Via Bashman). The dissent offers persuasive counter arguments, 41-48.  The dissent fails to persuade me, though, because I have always read Heck v. Humphrey as a form of res judicata.  When you admit guilt, you're admitting that no constitutional provision bars your guilt.  Here, the civil plaintiff, by accepting the deal, admitted guilt (thus denying that the Constitution prohibited his conviction.)  Under this view, the panel's reasoning is sound.

This case could - and should - have been resolved by good lawyering. The city's lawyers should have required the plaintiff to sign a release-dismissal agreement.  ("We kick the charges, you agree not to sue us.")  Although release-dismissal agreements are unconstitutional and unconscionable, the Supreme Court disregarded constitutional reasoning and decency, and found them to be lawful.  Newtwon v. Rumery.