Monday, September 28, 2015
Ninth Circuit Revives Claim Detective Fabricated Evidence in Rape Case, Says Suit Was Timely
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A man whose conviction for burglary and rape was vacated after he served a full 10-year sentence may pursue claims that a police detective fabricated evidence, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
The panel reversed a district judge’s ruling that Ted Bradford waited too long to sue Yakima, Wash. Detective Joseph Scherschligt. The three-year statute of limitations on Bradford’s 42 U.S.C. §1983 claim was not triggered before Bradford won an acquittal at a retrial that occurred after he served his prison term, Senior Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote for the panel.
Bradford was convicted in 1996. The conviction was vacated in 2008 after DNA testing of evidence collected from the crime scene, and a jury acquitted Bradford of all charges on Feb. 10, 2010.
Bradford sued Scherschligt on Feb. 7, 2013. He alleged, among other things, that the detective falsely reported that a neighbor of the victim, who earlier reported “flush[ing] the peeping Tom” from her yard on the day of the crime, contradicted her first statement and recalled seeing a man driving a small, white, two-door Toyota—the same car Bradford drove at the time—around the neighborhood on at least six different occasions and just weeks before the victim was attacked.
The woman reported seeing that same man staring at the victim’s house just days before the rape, Scherschligt said in his report, and identified Bradford, from a photo montage, as the man she had seen.
U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice of the Eastern District of Washington granted the detective summary judgment, reasoning that the three-year period began in 2008, when the conviction was vacated.
Hawkins, writing for the Ninth Circuit, disagreed, saying the claim accrued when Bradford was finally free of all criminal charges. The jurist said “the inquiry here is not as simple as merely identifying the onset date of injury.”
“Here, Bradford alleges a violation of his due process rights based on the initiation of criminal charges that were based on allegedly fabricated evidence. The constitutional violation and resultant injury thus began on the date that the state brought charges against Bradford.”
But since “Bradford’s conviction was vacated in a manner that specifically permitted the pursuit of the same charges against him based on the same evidence,” Hawkins said, the limitations period did not begin on the date that Bradford knew of his injury.
To determine when a §1983 claim accrues, the judge explained, courts look to the rules governing the most analogous common law tort, in this case malicious prosecution. Hawkins concluded that the Fourth Circuit correctly analyzed the accrual rules for malicious prosecution claims in Owens v. Baltimore City State’s Attorneys Office (2014) 767 F.3d 379.
The court held there that such a claim does not accrue until the proceedings against the plaintiff have been “terminated in such a manner that they cannot be revived.”
Hawkins said that setting the accrual date for Bradford’s claim as the date of his acquittal also “makes practical sense,” because “[h]ad Bradford brought his claims immediately after his conviction was vacated, Detective Scherschligt would almost certainly have moved to stay proceedings on the grounds that a retrial was imminent and that a conviction would produce a Heck bar against Bradford’s claims.”
In Heck v. Humphrey (1994) 512 U.S. 477, the court held that a person convicted of a crime could not—unless the conviction was overturned or set aside—obtain damages under §1983, if a judgment in that person’s favor would necessarily imply the invalidity of the conviction or sentence.
On remand, Hawkins went on to say, the district judge may consider the detective’s alternative argument that he is entitled to qualified immunity. He may also reconsider whether the plaintiff adequately pled a claim that Scherschligt withheld witness information in violation of Brady v. Maryland, or may amend his complaint to allege such a claim, the appellate jurist said in a footnote.
Senior Judge John T. Noonan and Judge Ronald Gould joined in the opinion.
The case is Bradford v. Scherschligt, 14-35651.
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