(CN) - A man convicted twice for the same murder can sue the Ventura County Sheriff's Department for failing to read him his rights, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
Jurors first convicted Fredrick Lee Jackson in 1995 for the rape and murder of Genoveva Gonzales, a mother of four, based in part on Jackson's admission to police that he had been at the scene of the crime.
The 9th Circuit vacated that murder conviction a decade later after finding that Ventura County Deputy Michael Barnes had taken that statement before reading Jackson his rights as required under the Supreme Court's 1966 decision Miranda v. Arizona.
California retried Jackson in 2005, and the jury still voted to convict without having heard the illegal interrogation.
In the meantime, Jackson filed a pro se civil rights action against Barnes and the Ventura County Sheriff's Department over the Miranda
violation from the first trial.
U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew dismissed the case in Los Angeles as being, among other things, prohibited by Heck v. Humphrey
, a 20-year-old ruling that says civil rights actions can challenge only reversed, expunged or invalidated convictions.
In a unanimous reversal, a three-judge appeals panel found Tuesday that Jackson's is one of those rare cases "in which a plaintiff who has been lawfully convicted is not barred by Heck v. Humphrey
"In this case it is Jackson's second conviction for first degree murder that is outstanding," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the panel. "It is undisputed that the second conviction was insulated from the inculpatory statements that are the subject of Jackson's ... suit against Barnes. The first conviction is the case in which the Fifth Amendment violation occurred."
The defendants argued, among other things, that they had properly won summary judgment because Jackson would not be able to collect damages even if he prevailed.
While admitting that Jackson, who was already serving a long sentence for unrelated crimes at the time of the first trial, could not win any compensatory damages for time spent behind bars, the panel said that he could seek punitive damages, "especially nominal damages."
The panel also reversed the lower court as to Jackson's failure-to-supervise claims against the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, finding that he had "sufficiently pleaded a 'policy of inaction' for which the Sheriff's Department, as a county actor, is subject to suit."