Hearn v. Castilleja
(Filed by Attorney Richard Gladden)
Today, May 27, 2020, I and my clients Jack, Donnie and Jimmy, received a final judgment and opinion from the U.S. District Court in Austin which ruled against us, and in favor of the State of Texas, in our civil rights case challenging the constitutionality of lifetime registration. The Court’s decision is posted along with this comment.
As many of you are aware our constitutional claim rested on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Santobello v. New York. In Santobello the Supreme Court ruled a state violates substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment when it breaches a plea bargain agreement with a criminal defendant. In our case the State of Texas did just that: it changed state law to require Jack, Donnie and Jimmy to register for life, long after they accepted a plea bargain agreement in their criminal cases. The negotiated terms of their plea agreements, at the time of they were induced to waive their constitutional rights to a fair trial, either provided they would not be required to register at all, or that they would only be required to register until they completed their probation.
Today the U.S. District Court in our case ruled against us on two, and only two, issues. First, the Court correctly ruled contract principles generally apply to our constitutional breach of plea claim. However, to our surprise, the Court further ruled that a valid breach of contract claim, as well as our constitutional claim based on Santobello, requires an aggrieved person to prove the consequences of the breach resulted in a criminal “punishment” being imposed against him. Most of us are familiar that rule applies to Ex Post Facto claims. However, I am unaware of any case that recognizes such a principle in contract law, or any case that has interpreted Santobello in this way in the plea bargain context.
Second, the Court ruled the applicable two-year statute of limitations barred our claims because more than two years elapsed between the point in time that Jack, Donnie and Jimmy “knew or should have known” their rights were violated (some 20 years ago), and the point in time that we filed our lawsuit (in 2018). Our position is, and has been throughout this case, that the “continuing violation doctrine” adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 overruled the “knew or should have known” doctrine for purposes of determining whether a claim is barred by a statute of limitations. Based on that decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit likewise overruled the “knew or should have known” doctrine in 2017. Unfortunately, the District Court in our case, we believe, overlooked this fact. Instead, it based its statute of limitations ruling on an unpublished (and therefore non-precedential) case that was decided by the Fifth Circuit 1998, 19 years before that unpublished case was effectively overruled by the Fifth Circuit’s subsequent decision in 2017.
While the District Court’s decision in our case today is disappointing, and unexpected given Judge Yeakel’s long and well-deserved reputation for getting things right, we consider this merely a bump in the road, and far from the end of our case. I’ve been here before, and I’ve learned ultimate success, which is just around the corner, can be delayed in this way. Having discussed this matter with Jack, Donnie, and Jimmy, we intend to appeal from this decision.
Although the appellate process may require another year or so to complete, we are confident we will prevail in the end. It is also our intention to keep all TVRJ members apprised of any significant developments in the case going forward. With Mary Sue’s assistance, we will do that by sharing those updates, if any, here.
Thanks to all of you who have generously given us support in this fight so far, and to those who have patiently waited anxiously with us hoping for a better outcome. The fight goes on.
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