Man can sue LAPD over allegedly forced confession, court says
A Los Angeles man who spent 19 years in prison for murders he did not commit will be able to sue the LAPD for allegedly coercing his confession, a panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Monday.
Harold C. Hall should be permitted to amend his complaint against the city to allege coerced confession, which the court said was made as a result of "desperation, fear and fatigue," in possible violation of the Fifth Amendment.
The majority in the 2-1 decision said “the extraordinary circumstances” of Hall’s conviction justified the court’s unusual action as necessary “to prevent a woefully unjust result.”
Hall's double-murder conviction in 1985 was based on “falsified” documents by a jailhouse informant and a confession Hall made when he was 18, the court said. He agreed to admit guilt only after several hours of interrogation in which he was handcuffed and denied food. He was never advised of his rights, the court said.
Hall’s convictions eventually were overturned. He later sued the city, but failed to allege violation of the Fifth Amendment, which protects people from forced self-incrimination. A district judge dismissed the case after ruling Hall could not amend his suit to cite the proper provision of law.
The 9th Circuit majority said the “exceptional” nature of Hall’s history warranted Monday’s ruling that revived his suit. “Justice eluded Hall when he suffered a conviction based on that confession and the patently false inculpatory evidence created by a jailhouse informant," wrote Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, an appointee of former President Carter. “Justice eluded Hall when he served nineteen years in state prison for a crime he did not commit. And justice will elude Hall yet again without the opportunity to amend his complaint and let a jury decide whether he deserves monetary compensation for his unlawful incarceration.”
Judge Sandra S. Ikuta, appointed by former President George W. Bush, dissented, arguing that the majority’s action was not supported by precedent or the Constitution. Hall had failed to appeal the lower court’s decision denying him the right to amend his lawsuit, and the majority had no authority to step in now and overturn the district court, Ikuta said.
The court said Hall now works full-time for the Los Angeles County Bar Assn., coordinating a program that provides lawyers for indigent defendants.
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-- Maura Dolan
Photo: Harold Hall, photographed in 2001, was freed after 19 years in prison for murders he did not commit. A court ruled Monday that he will be able to sue the Los Angeles Police Department over allegedly coercing his confession. Credit: Los Angeles Times