The United States criminal justice system convicts, incarcerates, and, in some instances, executes people for crimes of which they are innocent. Although wrongful convictions may be an inevitable consequence of our criminal justice system, it would seem that a person wrongly deprived of his liberty is entitled to a civil remedy to compensate for the mistakes of the criminal system. Yet persons wrongly convicted of crimes who bring actions under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 for an erroneous arrest, detention, or conviction are often denied monetary compensation.
This Article considers the role of causation in section 1983 wrongful conviction cases. Although causation is seldom mentioned as an element of a section 1983 claim, it plays two roles in section 1983 litigation. First, causation is an inherent part of the deprivation element of a section 1983 claim. Additionally, causation serves as a link between the defendant's breach and the plaintiff's damages, which I refer to as "damages causation." Wrongful convictions almost never happen for one reason but, instead, are usually the result of several different acts. Hence, they are not easily amenable to causation determinations and courts have used "damages causation" as a way to limit liability in section 1983 wrongful conviction claims. I argue that courts' approaches to damages causation in section 1983 claims unnecessarily and improperly limit defendants' liability in wrongful conviction cases.
Civil Rights and Discrimination
Date of this Version
Teressa E. Ravenell, "Cause and Conviction: The Role of Causation in Section 1983 Wrongful Conviction Claims" (February 2010). Villanova University School of Law Working Paper Series. Working Paper 146.