The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a groundbreaking, precedential decision that reinstated our client’s § 1983 civil rights case alleging a 4th Amendment malicious prosecution violation and a 14th Amendment due process violation. Our 55-year-old client was charged with arson of her 105-year-old family home when she was helping her mother clean out their possessions after the home was sold. At the time the fire started, electricians were working, without a permit, to bring the old knob and tube wiring up to code. The fire started right at an outlet box and was extinguished by the electricians themselves.
Despite irrefutable evidence that the interior of the outlet sustained fire damage, and despite the clear “V” pattern of fire damage extending from the base and right side of the outlet, indicated that this was a classic electrical fire; and despite their self-admitted lack of electrical knowledge, the police and fire personnel decided that this fire was intentionally set with an open flame. In the process, they did not inspect the circuit breakers, and did not preserve any of the evidence including the electrical outlet, supporting brackets, electrical box and outlet cover. This evidence, if it had been inspected by a person with the requisite expertise, was totally exculpatory, and its spoliation put our client in danger of being wrongfully convicted. The police and fire personnel also fabricated evidence in violation of our client’s due process rights. Finally, the prosecutor and lead detective refused to meet with world-renown fire expert John Lentini who offered to show them why this was a textbook case of an electrical fire. Based on Lentini’s testimony, the jury deliberated less than one hour before finding our client not guilty of all charges.