A man convicted of murder largely on the basis of a jailhouse informant’s perjured testimony may attempt to hold Los Angeles County liable for his 24 years in prison, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived a lawsuit by Thomas Goldstein, who was released from prison after a district judge ruled that informant Edward Fink had lied on the stand.
The district court ruled that Goldstein might have been acquitted if Los Angeles prosecutors had revealed that Fink had received favors for such testimony in other cases.
Goldstein sued county prosecutors for having failed to disclose Fink’s history to the defense, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors could not be held liable in such cases.
A district trial judge, following the high court, later dismissed Goldstein’s suit against the county.
Wednesday’s decision reinstated the suit on the grounds that the county had liability for its administrative failures.
“The conduct at issue here does not involve prosecutorial strategy, but rather administrative oversight of systems used to help prosecutors comply with their constitutional duties,” Judge Sidney R. Thomas, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the court.
Goldstein said in his suit that the county should have created an index of jailhouse informants, benefits they received for testifying and other information that prosecutors were required to share with defense lawyers.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt agreed with the result but in separate opinion said that California had executed Tommy Thompson in 1998 on a murder and rape conviction “based on Fink’s perjured testimony.”
“It is unlikely that Thompson was death-eligible for his part in the crime, if he was guilty at all of any offense…,” wrote Reinhardt, appointed by former President Jimmy Carter. “Although Thompson was executed as a result of Fink’s perjury (as well as the other unfortunate judicial matters…,) the innocent Mr. Goldstein was fortunate enough to avoid that fate.”
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