Since the First isn’t doing anything, the Blogosphere (and alert readers) are bussing about the Second Circuit’s decision in McKithen v. Brown, No. 03-0168 (2d Cir. Mar. 13, 2007). There, the Second Circuit holds that a 42 U.S.C § 1983 action that seeks a “constitutional right of DNA access” for a convict cannot simply be thrown out on Rooker-Feldman or Heck v. Humphrey grounds. Moreover, the District Court can’t raise that defense sua sponte (the District Court judge sure likes to see people in jail, it seems), but instead the District Court judge (Gleeson) has to figure out what the parameters of the constitutional right of access for DNA testing is first. For more info, see HA, DotD and SL&P.
Update: look below the fold for some, “analysis," as they kids are calling it.
- the federal-court plaintiff must have lost in state (procedural)
- the plaintiff must “complain of injuries caused by [a] state-court judgment[.] (substantive)
- the plaintiff must “invit[e] district court review and rejection of [that] judgment. (substantive)
- the state-court judgment must have been “rendered before the district court proceedings commenced” — i.e., Rooker-Feldman has no application to federal-court suits proceeding in parallel with ongoing state-court litigation. (procedural)
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine turns not on the similarity between a party’s state-court and federal-court claims (which is generally speaking, the focus of ordinary preclusion law), but rather on the causal relationship between the state-court judgment and the injury of which the party complains in federal court.)
The court then explains how under Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475 (1973) and Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), § 1983 actions that deal with the same issues regularly raised in criminal cases do not necessarily “imply that the plaintiff’s conviction was unlawful.” Yes folks, even a suit alleging a violation of a defendant’s fourth amendment rights where the evidence was admitted at trial might be cognizable under § 1983, because 1) illegally obtained evidence might be admissible at trial under all the pro-government doctrines such as inevitable discovery or attenuation; or 2) standing issues might be different under § 1983 then in the criminal trial.
Therefore, making a piece of evidence available for DNA testing doesn’t necessarily mean that the defendant will serve less time in jail. Yes, at some point, he might be able to make a showing that his conviction was unlawful. But, that isn’t the issue. The issue is whether the § 1983 claim itself would show that.
Anyway, the state argued (on appeal only) that the prisoner’s claim was now barred by the doctrine claim preclusion because he raised it in post-conviction relief proceedings, that were not taken too seriously by the New York Courts. The state (or rather the District Attorney sued), the Second reasons, did not show how a due process claim could have been raised in the state post-conviction relief proceedings.
Footnote 10 explains how the Fourth Circuit has egg on its face, when they 1) denied relief to a prisoner; but 2) the state court granted it, thereby 1) mooting the Federal claim; and 2) preventing the Fourth from reconsidering its strange position. Another footnote says that the Fourth’s logic under Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 79 (2005), which focuses on the motives of the plaintiff is no longer tenable.