On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Middle District of Pennsylvania
(D.C. Civil Action Nos. 93-cv-01428 and 94-cv-01470)
Before the retrial, however, that court ordered the dismissal of all charges against Smith based on newly discovered evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. In these ensuing civil rights cases, the defendants unsuccessfully sought dismissal of Smith's claims on statute of limitations grounds, arguing that they accrued when his conviction was reversed, even though he was still the subject of an ongoing prosecution at that time. Since Smith's claims were filed more than two years after that reversal but within two years of the dismissal of all charges against him, we must decide whether, under the teachings of Heck, a claim is cognizable under Section(s) 1983 where its success would necessarily imply the invalidity of a future conviction that might be entered on a pending criminal charge. We hold that such a claim is not cognizable under Section(s) 1983. It necessarily follows that claims like those of Smith do not accrue so long as the potential for a judgment in the pending criminal prosecution continues to exist. Since this potential existed in Smith's case until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the charges dismissed on September 18, 1992, Smith's claims did not accrue before that date. Accordingly, Smith's claims were timely filed and we will affirm.
(Opinion Filed June 26, 1996)
In Heck v. Humphrey, 114 S. Ct. 2364 (1994), the Supreme Court held that 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983 does not provide a cause of action to recover monetary compensation for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment where recovery would necessarily imply the invalidity of an outstanding criminal conviction of a state court. In these consolidated civil rights actions, Jay Smith seeks monetary compensation for his allegedly unconstitutional conviction and imprisonment on murder charges. On direct appeal from Smith's murder conviction, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed that conviction due to a state-law evidentiary error and remanded for a new trial.
In April 1986, a jury convicted Smith of the murders of Susan Reinert and her children. Smith immediately appealed. While the appeal was ongoing in July 1988, the government disclosed that police investigators had withheld potentially exculpatory evidence. *fn1 On December 22, 1989, on direct appeal the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed Smith's convictions on the unrelated ground that the Court of Common Pleas had improperly admitted hearsay evidence. Commonwealth v. Smith, 568 A.2d 600 (Pa. 1989). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court remanded for a new trial.
Smith remained in prison pending a second trial. He promptly moved to dismiss the ongoing prosecution on double jeopardy grounds, arguing that the withholding of exculpatory evidence at the first trial amounted to prosecutorial misconduct. Smith had not previously raised this issue because he had not learned of the misconduct until after his trial and because the supporting evidence was not part of the record on direct appeal. On September 18, 1992, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered all charges dismissed based on the double jeopardy clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Commonwealth v. Smith, 615 A.2d 321 (Pa. 1992). The court held that Pennsylvania's double jeopardy clause prevented retrial because the withholding of evidence was "intentionally undertaken to prejudice the defendant to the point of the denial of a fair trial." Id. at 325. Smith was immediately released.
On September 15, 1993, Smith filed a Section(s) 1983 claim against John Holtz, Ronald Colyer, Victor Dove, John Purcell, William Lander, and Paul Yatron (the "Holtz case"). Holtz, Colyer, Dove, Purcell, and Lander were government officials involved in the investigation. Yatron was an attorney with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office. Smith alleged that the misconduct in connection with the concealing of the exculpatory evidence violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. On September 14, 1994, Smith filed a separate Section(s) 1983 suit against Joseph Wambaugh (the "Wambaugh case"). He claimed that Wambaugh, an author, had conspired with police investigators to conceal exculpatory evidence and to fabricate evidence linking Smith to the murders, in order to make money from a book and a television miniseries. He alleged violations of his Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In both cases he sought to recover the damages resulting from his unlawful conviction and confinement.
The defendants in both cases argued that Smith's claims were time-barred by the applicable two-year Pennsylvania statute of limitations because they accrued when his conviction was reversed in 1989. *fn2 Based on Heck v. Humphrey, 114 S. Ct. 2364 (1994), the district court concluded that Smith's Section(s) 1983 claims were timely filed because they did not accrue until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered all charges dismissed in ...