(CN) - Officials in Nevada could be liable for failing to reveal the criminal history of a confidential informant whose testimony sent a man to jail for more than four years, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
Pedro Rosales-Martinez claims that a Reno police officer and various Washoe County officials knew but neglected to disclose that the sole witness against him in a drug trial had a long criminal career using an alias.
Rosales-Martinez was convicted in 2004 for trafficking, giving away and possessing a controlled substance, and sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison.
While doing his time, Rosales-Martinez found out that the confidential police informant who had testified against him also went by another name, under which he had logged a substantial criminal history that did not come up during the trial.
He cited this fact in a petition for habeas corpus relief, and in late 2008 reached a deal with the state court to plead guilty to the least of his charges in exchange for release and cancellation of his other convictions.
Just one day shy of two years later, Rosales-Martinez filed his federal claim for wrongful conviction. He alleged that Reno Police Officer Colby Palmer had promised to get the confidential informant out of jail in exchange for helping him convict Rosales-Martinez, and that the government had illegally failed to disclose the informant's criminal history, among other things.
U.S. District Judge Edward Reed dismissed the claims outright after finding that Rosales-Martinez had missed the two year deadline for filing. Reed reasoned that the clock started ticking on the claims when Rosales-Martinez first learned of the informant's double life and criminal history.
A unanimous appellate panel reversed on Tuesday and sent the case back to Reno.
The two-year period actually began when Rosales-Martinez's convictions were invalidated by the state court, the three-judge panel found. The panel directed the lower court to consider on appeal if Rosales-Martinez's plea to the least charge in exchange for his release has any affect on his claims.
Typically, civil rights actions can challenge only reversed, expunged or invalidated convictions.