Friday, November 30, 2007

Court Rejects Free Exercise Challenge to Wrongful Conviction Recovery Limits

North Carolina law (N.C. Gen Stat. Sec. 148-82) provides that a person who was convicted of a felony and then granted a pardon of innocence by the governor may bring a claim against the state for the pecuniary loss suffered by reason of the person's erroneous conviction and imprisonment. In Ross v. State of North Carolina, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87067 (ED NC, Feb. 1, 2007)-- a case decided some months ago but just recently made available on LEXIS-- a North Carolina federal district court rejected a claim that conditioning compensation on the receipt of a pardon violates the Free Exercise clause.

Convicted murderer Daniel Ross had his conviction overturned because of faulty instructions to the jury on burden of proof. The state decided not to retry him. Ross then sought compensation for his wrongful imprisonment, but was denied it because he had not received a gubernatorial pardon. Ross then brought suit, alleging among other things, that conditioning the availability of damages on receipt of a gubernatorial pardon requires him to violate "a cardinal principle of his religious faith". He says he believes that "only the Almighty God . . . is responsible for granting grace or mercy as a covenant to His heirs." The court also rejected Ross' equal protection and 8th and 13th Amendment challenges.