Thursday, October 6, 2016

Court upholds Section 1983 fabricated evidence verdict

The Fourth Amendment allows you to sue the police on a fair trial violation over fabricated evidence, even if the police otherwise had probable cause to arrest you. This rule is intended to keep the police honest. This case asks whether the courts may extend that legal principle when the police fabricate evidence that they then furnish to the prosecutor.

The case is Garnett v. Undercover Officer 39, decided on September 30. The Second Circuit ruled in Ricciuti v New York City Transit Authority, 124 F.3d 123 (2d Cir. 1997), that the police may be sued under Section 1983 if the fabricated information denies someone a fair trial. That holding is extended to the facts of this case, where a jury found that an officer faked evidence intended to implicate a man who supposedly acted suspiciously outside a bodega where the police were conducting a buy-and-bust drug deal.

After seeing Garnett standing outside the bodega, the officer told the arresting officer and the prosecutor that he heard Garnett say, "Yo, hurry up. Y'all ain't done yet? Get that money. I'm not looking to get locked up tonight. Let's go." If true, this statement would prove Garnett's guilt. The police used this "statement" to prove Garnett was a lookout man for the drug sale. Garnett spent eight months in jail because he could not pay bail. The criminal court jury acquitted Garnett of the drug charges. At the federal Section 1983 trial, the police introduced this statement in evidence. But Garnett put on detailed evidence that he was just a bystander that night and was standing outside the bodega after getting some fast food and visiting friends. For the false arrest, the jury gave Garnett $1.00 in nominal damages and $20,000 in punitive damages.

The Court of Appeals (Pooler, Sack and Lynch) upholds the verdict and extend Riccuiti's reasoning to cases where the police fabricate evidence and then give it to the prosecutor "Ricciuti's reasoning applies as much to a situation where, as here, the falsified information was the officer's account, conveyed to prosecutors of what he heard the defendant say and do during the alleged offense, as it did in Ricciuti, where the officer was describing what he had heard the defendant say during an interview after his arrest."

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