Full Circuit Allows Rights Suit, Despite Guilty Plea

, New York Law Journal


Marcos Poventud and his attorney Julia Kuan
Marcos Poventud and his attorney Julia Kuan at Poventud's home in Inwood, NY in June.

On Thursday, the en banc majority upheld that result, but on narrower grounds, without having to decide the issue of the relationship between §1983 and habeas corpus.

Writing for the majority, Wesley said "Poventud did exactly what Heck required of him."

"He sought a state court determination that his due process rights were violated in his jury trial, he secured a state court judgment vacating his 1998 conviction, and the State chose not to appeal," Wesley wrote. "Heck, therefore, does not bar Poventud's claims."

The difference for the majority was that Heck was challenging the fairness of his 1998 conviction— not the lesser offense he pleaded guilty to—so "his claim does not necessarily imply the invalidity of his outstanding conviction."

Batts erred, Wesley said, by concluding that Poventud's 2006 plea "was at odds with his alibi defense at his 1998 trial" so his claim that the State violated his right to exculpatory evidence under Brady v. Maryland "would call his plea into question" and violate Heck.

This view, Wesley said, "incorrectly presumes that, on the facts of this case, the State could violate Poventud's Brady rights only if Poventud was an innocent man …" a restriction that "has no basis in the Brady case law."

In dissent, Jacobs said the "majority's reasoning impairs the future application of Heck and Brady in this circuit."

Poventud, he said, entered a guilty plea "that made clear that the eyewitness identification was sound, and that Poventud's alibi defense at the first trial was perjury."

Jacobs took a very different view of Brady than that of majority, saying "there is no Brady deprivation absent a concern that the truth-finding function of the trial has been thwarted," and "The majority assumes that Brady is a rule of procedure detached from its ultimate goal."

Poventud, he said, will be required "to prove by a preponderance that the nondisclosure was material, i.e. that it caused a result that is wrong or unworthy of confidence. But his own guilty plea forecloses that possibility."

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