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Ninth Circuit: Damages Suit Not Heck-barred by Retrial

Ninth Circuit: Damages Suit Not Heck-barred by Retrial

by Mark Wilson

In “an unusual case,” the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a California murder conviction on retrial did not bar a damages suit for the first conviction, which had been illegally obtained.

In 1995, Frederick Lee Jackson was convicted of rape and murder based, in part, on a taped interview by Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Barnes. Although Jackson was in custody, Barnes did not provide a Miranda warning before interviewing him.

During the interview, Jackson contradicted his earlier statements and placed himself at the murder scene, saying he “just happened to be there.” Jurors heard both statements and convicted him of rape and murder.

“Deeming the question ‘refreshingly simple,’” the Ninth Circuit vacated only the murder conviction, holding “that Jackson’s rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), were violated when Barnes interrogated him while he was in custody without giving him the requisite Miranda warnings.”

After his conviction was vacated but before he was retried, Jackson filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court seeking millions of dollars in damages. He alleged that Barnes’ failure to Mirandize him during the interrogation violated his Fifth Amendment rights, and the sheriff’s office was liable for failing to supervise Barnes.

Jackson was subsequently retried in 2005 without the illegally-obtained evidence. He was again convicted of murder, and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

The district court dismissed the civil rights suit, holding that Jackson’s claims against Barnes were barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The sheriff’s office was granted judgment on the pleadings.

Jackson appealed and the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that his claims against Barnes were not Heck-barred because they were based upon the illegal interview, and that interview was not used to obtain his second conviction.

The Court of Appeals also found that Jackson’s claim was not time-barred. Observing that the “claim accrued when his initial conviction was overturned in March 2004,” the Court noted that “Jackson filed his complaint in September 2004, six months after his claim accrued and well within the statute of limitations.”

The appellate court then rejected the defendants’ claim that Jackson could not show that he had suffered damages; while “Jackson is not entitled to compensatory damages for any time he spent in prison,” punitive and nominal damages may be available.

The Ninth Circuit also reinstated Jackson’s claims against the sheriff’s office. Rejecting the defendants’ contention that Brewster v. Shasta County, 275 F.3d 803 (9th Cir. 2001) is no longer good law, the Court of Appeals followed Brewster in holding that “a sheriff’s department is a county actor when it investigates a crime” and is, therefore, subject to suit when it violates a suspect’s rights. See: Jackson v. Barnes, 749 F.3d 755 (9th Cir. 2014).

Following remand, the district court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on March 4, 2015, and granted Jackson’s motion for an investigation into his claims that he had not received various mailings from the court clerk. The defendants were ordered to file a declaration within seven days after each court document was sent to Jackson, attesting that he had received it. “Proof of the document’s arrival at [the] prison shall not suffice,” the court wrote. The defendants filed a renewed summary judgment motion in June 2015, and the case remains pending with Jackson proceeding pro se. See: Jackson v. Barnes, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:04-cv-08017-RSWL-RAO.

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Related legal cases

Jackson v. Barnes

Jackson v. Barnes