Court Rules Plaintiff’s Access to Courts Claim is Barred by Heck v. Humphrey

September 26, 2017

Judge Sara Darrow of the U.S. District Court of Central Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of the Livingston County Jail Superintendent in Carter v. Cox, et al., No. 15-cv-1512. Jail inmate Anton Carter claimed that his constitutional right to access the courts was violated when he was prohibited from bringing his legal property with him during transport from the Department of Corrections (DOC) to the county jail.

Carter was incarcerated with the DOC in May 2013.  At that time, Carter was representing himself in a 2011 vehicular hijacking case. Carter claimed that he possessed an exculpatory witness affidavit in his legal property. On May 31, 2013, Carter was scheduled to be transferred to the Livingston County Jail. Initially, Carter refused the transfer because Cox told Plaintiff that the jail’s policy did not permit him to bring his legal property with him but instead it would have to be mailed into the facility. However, Carter eventually agreed to the transfer after a DOC officer promised to mail Carter’s legal property to Carter’s sister in Iowa. Carter’s legal property went missing, and on March 11, 2015, Carter was found guilty of the vehicular hijacking.

Carter alleged that the jail and DOC’s actions impeded his ability to defend his vehicular hijacking case and resulted in his wrongful conviction. Carter contended that the affidavit in question would have exonerated him. The Court found, however, that if Carter could prove his case, it would necessarily imply the invalidity of his vehicular hijacking conviction. Pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), a plaintiff may not collaterally attack his conviction through civil Section 1983 litigation. In addition, the Court noted that the Jail Superintendent did not impede Carter’s access to the courts because Carter was permitted to have his legal property at the jail, just not during transport. Finally, the Court explained that because access to legal materials is only required for unrepresented litigants and Carter was eventually appointed criminal defense counsel, no reasonable juror could find that he was denied access to the courts.  Thus, the Court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Livingston County Jail Superintendent was represented by Michael Condon and Tara Grimm.

Carter v. Cox

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