TRUCKEE, Calif. - "Some might call Harold Hall an unlucky fellow." With those words, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals begins its opinion determining whether Hall may sue the City of Los Angeles and two police detectives who supposedly fabricated evidence and forced his confession - resulting in his imprisonment for 19 years. The facts here are beyond belief.
Harold Hall, 18, witnessed a drive-by shooting at 54th Street in Los Angeles (the 54th Street Shooting). The police persuaded Hall, who had no gang affiliation, to testify in the 54th Street murder case. The State needed Hall to identify triggerman "Ace Capone," an infamous member of the Bloods gang. Long story short, Hall testified and Ace went to prison. Of course, Hall's life became in jeopardy and he had police protection for years. In fact, he developed a warm relationship with detective Dufort.
Meanwhile, someone murdered Nola Duncan and David Rainey, (the Duncan-Rainey Murders). Hall lived near the crime scene, so he and other curious neighbors watched the crime scene investigation. That was his only connection to the crime.
The police had reason to believe that someone else, one Art Powell, committed the crime, but consistent with Hall's bad luck, the police did not investigate Powell.
Roughly a year later, Hall ended up in jail for robbery. Hey, he wasn't perfect. To protect him from attacks by the gang members affiliated with the 54th Street shooting, detective Dufort arranged for Hall to be housed with other informants. Unlucky for Hall, one of the informants, hoping to reduce his sentence, implicated Hall in the Duncan-Rainey murders. The informant produced jailhouse notes signed by Hall which incriminated him in the Duncan-Rainey murders. Later, the informant admitted to fabricating the notes.
Based on the informant's concocted statements and notes, the L.A. police interrogated Hall. Get this. For 19 hours. While he was handcuffed and denied food.
During the interrogation, the detectives claimed they had found Hall's semen on Duncan and his fingerprints on her body and they found a foot print in the alley near Duncan's body. He denied he was at the crime scene, but the police kept "feeding him with facts" about what happened.
Finally, after 19 hours of interrogation, without reading, he signed a statement admitting guilt. Nineteen years later it was proven Hall was not guilty and he was released from prison. He sued the City of Los Angeles and the two detectives for violating his constitutional rights.
Let's skip to the Ruling in this case and print the longest quotation ever to appear in the Law Review in more than 30 years.
"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. A jury convicted Hall of murder, a crime he did not commit, based only on his confession and falsified documents manufactured by a jailhouse informant. Hall served nineteen years in prison. Detectives interrogated an eighteen-year-old Hall for up to six hours, with no Miranda advisement. He was handcuffed and denied food. When Hall asked for an attorney, Detective Arneson asked why Hall needed an attorney if he did not commit the crime. Detective Arneson also told Hall that only guilty people who were trying to hide something needed attorneys. Detective Dufort, the detective Hall had grown to see as a trusted friend and father figure, cautioned Hall that murder charges would lead to a conviction which would land Hall in prison with Ace Capone and that Capone would kill him. Detective Crocker then added that Hall would find himself in serious danger if he ended up in state prison because the Bloods would want revenge for his testimony in the 54th Street case, and the Crips would want revenge for Hall driving Capone during the 54th Street shooting. Hall - weary, hungry and terrified for his life and safety - finally confessed to the crime with "facts" that Detective Arneson spoon fed him. Hall initialed and signed the statement, but he never read it. The police interrogated Hall, handcuffed for somewhere between 17 and 19 hours that day."
Based on those egregious facts, the federal Court of Appeals wanted to allow Hall to take his case to court against the City and detectives, but his attorney had amazingly neglected to sue for a coerced confession, a violation of the Fifth Amendment - the privilege against self-incrimination. Normally, a court of appeal will not raise issues that were not raised by the parties at the trial.
In the end, the Court bent over backwards (much to the chagrin of the dissenting judge) to allow Hall to re-plead his case against the detectives writing, "But we are not called to consider an ordinary case, but, rather, an extraordinary one involving an unfortunate confluence of events - events not fit for a just and fair society. We are reminded today that as jurists we hold the power to protect individuals against arbitrary government action and abuse of power. In remanding this matter to the district court, we intend to safeguard the fairness, integrity and reputation of our courts, by making justice possible for Hall."
My guess is Hall's luck is about to change.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. He was the Governor's appointee to the California Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm's website www.portersimon.com.