Gantt v. City of Los Angeles

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 05-31-2013
  • Case #: 11-55000; 11-55002
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Judge Silverman for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski and Circuit Judge Kleinfeld
  • Full Text Opinion

Jury instructions on the level of culpability for deliberate fabrication of evidence which are confusing and misleading may cause reversible error because a reasonable juror conclude that the techniques employed on a witness were so coercive and abusive that they would likely lead to false information.

Plaintiffs, Gantt and Smith, had been tried, convicted, and released for a 1992 murder. They filed civil rights actions regarding the treatment of their murder case by investigators. Most importantly, investigators told a key witness that he would be charged with the murder if he did not provide any information. Plaintiffs established a deliberate fabrication of evidence claim, and the district court as well as the panel found sufficient evidence to warrant a jury instruction on that claim. The level of culpability for a due process violation under the Fourteenth Amendment is conduct that “shocks-the-conscience.” However, that which “shocks-the-conscience” will depend on the circumstances. In this instance, the jury instruction was found to be “confusing and misleading” because it was not given “in a clear disjunctive format,” and “included only torture as an example of what would satisfy the ‘shocks-the-conscience standard.’” The Ninth Circuit held that because the jury instruction was necessary, but was “confusing and misleading,” the instruction was detrimental to the Plaintiffs. The panel ordered a new trial on this claim. In terms of the Brady claim filed by Plaintiffs, the district court declined the claim without explanation. The panel found there were possible reasons to affirm or deny this claim, and ordered that, at retrial, the court consider this claim and explain its ruling. Next, the panel ordered a correct conspiracy instruction during the prospective retrial because the jury was instructed for a 42 U.S.C. § 1985 claim when the Plaintiffs filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. The remaining assignments of error were not ruled upon due to lack of merit and lack of evidence. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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