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Arson Conv. Overturned on Appeal Leads to Investigator Civil Liability
ARSON CONV. OVERTURNED ON APPEAL LEADS TO INVESTIGATOR CIVIL LIABILITY
In Castellano v. Fragozo (PDF), No. 00-50591, (Nov. 20, 2002), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed a malicious prosecution action under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 against an investigator and others after the criminal conviction for arson was overturned on appeal. The plaintiff was initially convicted of arson by a jury. However, on appeal the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals found witnesses sought fraudulent testimony to support the arson charge and also altered tape recordings used in the criminal trial. The court overturned his criminal conviction and it was expunged. The plaintiff then filed the malicious prosecution action against the investigator.
After a lengthy civil trial, the jury returned a verdict for $3,000,000.00 in compensatory damages and $500,000.00 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeals upheld the award against the investigator finding the defendant's did not have probable cause and there was a conspiracy to deprive the plaintiff of his constitutional rights. The court noted there was no probable cause because there was testimony that the audio tape was fabricated, the plaintiff always maintained his innocence and a witness was testimony was attempted to be altered to support the criminal charge.
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