07/17/11 — Judge allows Dail's lawsuit to go forward

View Archive

Judge allows Dail's lawsuit to go forward

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on July 17, 2011 12:14 AM

A former Goldsboro man's lawsuit against the city and its police department -- in connection with what became an 18-year prison sentence for a crime DNA evidence said he did not commit -- will move forward.

District Judge Terrence Boyle ordered the dismissal of two of Dwayne Dail's causes of action with prejudice and another without prejudice on Wednesday in federal court, but ruled that the other six claims in his lawsuit against Goldsboro police officials were valid or were not yet able to be ruled on.

Dail is suing for negligence and the denial of constitutional rights, claiming members of the police department kept him from accessing evidence for 12 years that would have proven his innocence in a 1988 rape case. Despite requests for evidence to be preserved in 1995, he was told the rape kit from the crime had been destroyed in 1994. In 2007, the kit was found in a Goldsboro police locker.

Spencer Parris, a Raleigh-based attorney representing Dail, said he and the rest of Dail's legal team are ready to move ahead with the case.

"We are pleased with the court's decision and look forward to working with the city on discovery issues," Parris said. "What happened to Dwayne should never happen to anybody."

A Thursday message seeking comment from the attorney representing Goldsboro and the officials named in the case, Scott Hart, was not returned Friday.

Citing case law, the order states that in cases where government policies cause "constitutional injury," as with Dail's situation, the plaintiff has a right to seek relief.

The defendants' motions to dismiss cite a previous case in which a state inmate sought access to DNA evidence that he alleged would establish his innocence. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in that case, Attorney's Office for Third Judicial District vs. Osborne, that there is no "freestanding constitutional due process right to postconviction DNA testing."

The judge's order rules that the Dail case is "factually and legally distinguishable" from that case because Dail wasn't suing for the evidence, he had already been exonerated and was seeking redress from the more than a dozen years of the defendants misinforming him about the evidence.

The judge also writes that N.C. General Statute 15A-1415 provides inmates in North Carolina with a right to evidence discovered postconviction that has a direct bearing on sentencing or innocence.

The causes of action that were dismissed with prejudice were two establishing the defendants' liability in their individual capacities. Dail did not contest those dismissals.

The judge ruled that one of Dail's causes was redundant, leading it to be dismissed without prejudice.

In response to the defendants' claim that the statute of limitations had run out on the matter, however, he determined that the date of Dail's exoneration began the three-year window in which a complaint may be filed, as he said Dail did not discover his injury until his innocence was proven. Dail was exonerated on Aug. 28, 2007, and filed his complaint on Aug. 26, 2010 and amended it Sept. 17, 2010.

The judge said it was premature for the court to rule on Dail's claims concerning his state constitutional rights, and his other causes of actions were deemed worthy of being included in future court proceedings.

The case will continue to be heard in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina Western Division.