How Long Is Too Long To Sue For Arrest?

Supreme Court-domestic disputes, supreme court building with police crusier and handcuffs AP / CBS

Andre Wallace spent more than eight years in jail before Illinois courts ruled his arrest was illegal, reversed his murder conviction and caused prosecutors to drop charges against him in 2002.

He filed a federal civil rights lawsuit a year later against the Chicago police officers who arrested him. Federal judges told him he had waited too long and dismissed the suit.

Twelve years after Wallace's arrest, the Supreme Court is taking up his case Monday to determine whether the lawsuit can proceed.

Wallace had two years in which to file his civil rights claim. The question before the justices is, did the two-year clock begin running at the time of Wallace's arrest in 1994, when he was released from custody in 2002, or some point in between?

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wallace should have taken some action in the two years following his arrest. In similar cases in other parts of the country, appeals courts have said false arrest claims can't be filed until convictions are nullified.

Wallace was 15 when Chicago police officers Kristen Kato and Eugene Roy brought him in for questioning in the murder of John Handy in January 1994. In the course of an interrogation that went through the night, Wallace said he was subjected to a "good cop/bad cop" routine that included being slapped and kicked. In the officers' account, Wallace was free to leave at any time.

Eventually, Wallace confessed. He tried and failed to have his statements thrown out on the grounds that he was arrested without probable cause and that his confession was coerced.

He was convicted of first degree-murder in 1996 after a trial in which Wallace claimed he shot Handy in self-defense or, alternatively, in mutual combat, attorneys for the officers argued in court papers.

Wallace appealed the conviction. The Illinois Appellate Court ruled in 1998 that the arrest was made without probable cause, but still ordered a lower court to determine whether the confession could stand.

The court said it could, affirming the conviction. The Illinois Appellate Court considered the case again and this time, reversed the conviction.

Prosecutors at that point decided not to try Wallace again, but would reinstate the murder charge against Wallace if they get additional evidence, the officers' lawyers said.
  • Lloyd Vries

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