In an important 3-0 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled on Wednesday that prosecutors can be sued for failing to maintain and uphold policies regarding jailhouse informants.
The ruling came in a civil damages case filed by Thomas L. Goldstein, who spent 24 years in prison for a wrongful murder conviction based largely on the testimony of jailhouse informant Edward F. Fink.
The decision marked the first time that the 9th Circuit has considered this issue, and the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on the precise question. Because of the potential ramifications for prosecutors, Loyola Law School professor Laurie L. Levenson said she thought the case might go to the Supreme Court.
"I'm really happy with the decision," Goldstein said by telephone. "Jailhouse informants have been used by prosecutors to put a lot of innocent people in prison…. The ruling by this court is the first step toward making district attorneys accountable for their actions."
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Jailhouse informants are one of the most common causes of wrongful convictions,
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