Friday, March 02, 2007

Fourth Circuit holds that Alford plea does not lead to judicial estoppel in excessive force case

In Zinkland v. Brown, Timothy Zinkand brought a § 1983 action against police officers, including Officer Brown because they allegedly used excessive force when arresting Zinkand in a drug bust. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants, and Zinkand moved for reconsideration. The district court denied Zinkand's motion, and Zinkand appealed only the decision rendered in favor of Detective Timothy Brown on the claim of excessive force.

In its decision, the district court was of opinion that the additional evidence supplied by Zinkand (via his Rule 59(e) Motion) created a genuine issue of material fact that would ordinarily require a trial for resolution. However, the district court held that the legal effect of the Zinkand's Alford plea amounted to judicial estoppel and was dispositive. (With an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence, but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty.)

Under the law of judicial estopppel, the party against whom judicial estoppel is to be applied must have intentionally misled the court to gain unfair advantage. Based upon their own examination of the record, the dived panel found that it was Zinkand's intent to obtain the very favorable sentence of probation without an entry of judgment against him and to preserve the excessive force claim. Without bad faith, there can be no judicial estoppel. Hence, the decision of the district court was reversed and remanded.

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