- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A former Arkansas resident whose drug-dealing conviction was tossed out because investigators withheld evidence that could have helped his case is not entitled to nearly half a million dollars for the time he served in prison, lawmakers said Tuesday.

A legislative panel reversed and dismissed the state Claims Commission’s decision to award Gyronne Buckley $460,000 for the 11½ years he served in prison for the convictions. The commission hears complaints against state agencies that are barred from lawsuits because of sovereign immunity laws, but the Legislature has final approval on whether to pay out those claims.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel had argued for lawmakers to overrule the commission, saying the panel had overstepped its authority by granting Buckley the claim and that it could set a precedent for others who had their convictions expunged or overturned.

“Everybody who’s acquitted doesn’t get to sue us. Everybody who gets an expungement doesn’t get to sue us,” McDaniel told lawmakers.

Buckley was convicted in 1999 of two counts of delivering of a controlled substance. Following several appeals, the state Supreme Court re-opened his case over a tape that investigators didn’t provide prosecutors of an interview with an informant who testified against Buckley. Buckley’s attorneys said the interview featured multiple discrepancies with trial testimony and it would have helped Buckley’s case.

A lower court granted a prosecutor’s request in 2010 to drop the case against Buckley and expunge his conviction, freeing him.

Buckley’s attorneys argued Tuesday that the case against him was tainted since the tap was withheld and by the lead investigator in Buckley’s case admitted to giving false testimony in another drug investigation. The commission in 2006 awarded $200,000 to Rodney Bragg, whose conviction was overturned because of the false testimony in that case.

McDaniel had accused the commission of confusing the two cases.

Buckley’s attorneys said legislators effectively condoned misconduct by police by overruling the commission’s award.

“The state of Arkansas has basically approved dirty cops and what they can do to any citizen, any place, any time,” Attorney Mark Hampton said after the hearing. “Every other state in the union has awarded damages for these kinds of wrongs.”

One member of the legislative panel said he believed the special prosecutor did the right thing by dropping the case against Buckley, clearing the way for his release, but said he was worried that awarding the claim would deter similar moves in the future.

“I’m afraid that if a prosecutor had in the back of his mind … that by believing justice had already been served or by dropping a case or any number of reasons, that he could be providing that person with a claim to sue the state of Arkansas, I’m afraid prosecutors may look at other things besides justice,” Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, said.

The ruling by the Arkansas Legislative Council’s claims subcommittee still must be reviewed by the full council, but Hampton said he wasn’t hopeful the decision would be overturned. Buckley, who is disabled from an injury he received while in prison, now lives in Houston and did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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