Sunday, October 26, 2014

Exoneree awarded $2.3 million jury verdict over innocence evidence concealed by prosecutors

Texas Lawyer brings word (Oct. 23) of the latest example of innocence compensation, this time through a federal courtroom instead of the state's innocence compensation law:

A federal judge issued a $2.3 million final judgment on Oct. 15 in favor of Manuel Alvarez, who filed a 1983 municipal liability complaint alleging that the city of Brownsville allowed its jailers to beat him in 2005 when he was 17, and then falsely charged him with assaulting them. Alvarez alleged that the jail concealed from him and his defense lawyers a videotape of the beating.

Luis Avila of Dallas and Eddie Lucio of Brownsville represented Alvarez, who served four years in a state jail for the assault charges before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals exonerated him in 2010 on the basis of his actual innocence, Lucio said. But Alvarez had a criminal record when the beating took place, Lucio added. That background presented an obstacle but a surmountable one at the jury trial held to decide the damages for municipal liability claim. An attorney for they city said the will appeal, arguing "that a precedent in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit barred Alvarez from claiming a Brady violation, on which he based his complaint, because he had previously pleaded guilty. A Brady violation occurs when prosecutors fail to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court 1963 ruling in Brady v. Maryland and disclose all exculpatory evidence." The story concluded:

Both Avila and Lucio expect the Fifth Circuit, based on the questions of status of Brady rights for defendants who have pleaded guilty, to review the case.

For now, though, the two lawyers are savoring their victory for a client "who was not a model kid," as Avila said, but who also did not deserve to be beaten and then charged for assaulting a jailer while a videotape of his beating remained hidden from his lawyers.