CCL President Robert S. Peck urged the Eleventh Circuit to reverse a decision dismissing a civil rights case brought against a Georgia state prosecutor by a person imprisoned for seven years before being exonerated by DNA evidence through the Innocence Project.

     Douglas Echols lost his military pension and family, and suffered repeated assaults in prison after being convicted of kidnapping and rape. He maintained from the beginning that he was a victim of mistaken identity. The Innocence Project obtained permission to test his DNA and brought forth evidence that supported Echols's claim. The state crime lab confirmed the results. A state court then determined that Echols could not have been convicted if the evidence and the prosecutor entered a nolle prosequi, guaranteeing that the state would not indict him again.

     The Georgia legislature, after the state claims advisory board twice unanimously recommended that he be compensated at the level of $1.6 million, took up a bill that would have provided Echols with that compensation for his wrongful conviction. However, the original prosecutor in his case wrote legislators that Echols was guilty and that he was still under indictment, which was palpably and knowingly false. The legislators dropped the bill. 

     Echols sued the prosecutor for interferring with his right to petition, retaliating against his pursuit of his First Amendment rights, and undermining the obligatory  and constitutionally protected presumption of innocence that he had won back in violation of substantive due process. After sitting on the case for nine years, and only after being ordered by a writ of mandamus to decide the matter, the U.S. District Court judge dismissed the case, finding that Echols had no rights and that the prosecutor was immune from suit.

     Before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Peck argued the District Court was wrong on all counts. Contrary to the judge's holding, the letter violated rights a prosecutor should have understood by putting forth false information intended to interfere with and burden Echols's petition right, that the presumption of innocence applies to compensatory claims as the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2017, and that the assertion that Echols was still under indictment amounted to the type of intimidation that courts universally find actionable. For those and other reasons, immunity did not apply to the prosecutor.

     The case is now submitted and under advisement.