If your lawyer misses a legal ground for a civil rights violation claim, don’t worry, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may find it for you. The appeals court reinstated a Los Angeles civil rights lawsuit by Harold Hall, who spent 19 years in prison, framed for a crime he did not commit.
Although Hall’s lawyer failed to include a Fifth Amendment claim of coerced confession, the facts laid out in the pleadings represented a classic case for coercion, according to Judge Dorothy Nelson. The court ordered the Los Angeles district court to allow Hall to amend his case to include the claim.
The 9th Circuit by a 2-1 vote, reinstated the civil rights claim saying that while it ordinarily refrains from considering an issue the party fails to raise, it may consider it if failure to do so would result in a “manifest injustice.”
“The extraordinary circumstances here convince us that we must remand this matter for amendment of the complaint in order to prevent a woefully unjust result,” Nelson wrote. Judge Ronald Gould joined Nelson.
Judge Sandra Ikuta dissented. The majority begins by “creating a novel legal argument for Hall and then, having concluded that its own argument has merit, it proceeds to resolve the case on those grounds,” she said.
Hall was one unlucky guy.
In 1984, at age 18, Hall witnesses a drive-by gang shooting that killed five people and wounded five others. Hall agreed to testify despite the danger, but in the midst of his testimony, during the preliminary hearing, a lawyer revealed Hall’s home address.
Hall got the support of detective Wayne Dufort who tried to protect him from the 54th Street gang. But less than a year later police arrested Hall on a separate case of robbery.
Dufort’s help to protect Hall from retaliation by jailed gang members prompted him to have Hall placed in the jail section reserved for informants. But that left him prey for predatory informers.
Unfortunately for Hall, between his testimony and his robbery arrest someone murdered siblings Nola Duncan and David Rainey in 1985. Hall’s only link was living in the same neighborhood.
The informants falsely implicated Hall in the Duncan-Rainey murders, concocting a story that he confessed.
Pressed by police interrogation for hours, without Miranda warnings, Hall was warned that if he didn’t confess to them he’d be charged with murder and face prison with the very members of the 54th Street gang he had testified against.
Detectives grilled the 18-year-old for up to six hours without a Miranda warning, handcuffed and denied food. In all, he spent 17 to 19 hours being questioned.
Hall succumbed to fear of prison with the gang members bent on revenge and broke down, according to the opinion.
Police “fed Hall the ‘facts’ about what happened the night of the Duncan-Rainey murder” to provide plausible confession. A jury eventually convicted him, although there was no physical or forensic evidence connecting him to the killing.
In 2004, the 9th Circuit granted his habeas petition and overturned the conviction based on denial of due process. He was released from custody and works for the Los Angeles County Bar Association.
Hall filed a civil rights violation claim against the city of Los Angeles and two detectives saying they violated his 14th Amendment right to be free from prosecution based on fabricated evidence and coercion.
The claim was dismissed for failure to produce facts to support fabrication of evidence and Hall was not allowed to amend his claims to add the Fifth Amendment claim.
His civil rights suit now goes back to the trial judge in Los Angeles for inclusion of the Fifth Amendment claim.
Case: Hall v. City of Los Angeles, No. 10-55770
Photo: California Progress Report