Finding a District judge improperly limited critical evidence relating to an Elkart man’s innocence during his trial for damages following his wrongful conviction, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new damages trial be held.
Christopher Parish was arrested when he was 20 years old in 1996 by Elkhart police and charged with attempted murder and armed robbery. He maintained his innocence throughout and was convicted based mainly on eyewitness testimony. Eight years after his conviction, an appeals court overturned it and ordered a new trial. He was 30 when he was released from prison. The government, after Parish rejected a plea deal to serve no additional jail time, dismissed the case.
Parish then sued the city of Elkhart and detective Steve Rezutko, who was lead investigator of the shooting, seeking damages for his wrongful conviction based on a violation of the Due Process Clause. He prevailed on the action and was awarded about $80,000 in total damages for the eight years he was wrongly imprisoned.
Parish sought a new trial, arguing the damages award was too low. Average jury awards for wrongful convictions are around $950,000 for every year of wrongful imprisonment. He also claimed the trial court erred in improperly limiting the evidence that he could introduce at trial which could show his innocence.
“A look at the evidence allowed and that withheld from the jury on the question of responsibility for the crime reveals that the deck was effectively stacked against Parish,” Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner wrote in Christopher Parish v. City of Elkhart, Indiana, et al., 11-1669. “Significant testimony as to Parish’s guilt of the crime, and particularly the testimony of eyewitnesses identifying him, was admitted whereas testimony as to his innocence, including statements by those same eyewitnesses expressing their doubts as to that identification, was excluded. The result was that the jury was deprived of significant probative evidence as to the issue of Parish’s guilt or innocence.”
The 7th Circuit affirmed the jury’s determination of liability but vacated the damages awarded. It ordered a new trial on damages and Circuit Rule 36 will apply on remand. Costs on appeal are to be taxed against the city and Rezutko.