Ruling opens the door for the Law Firms of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard and Walkup Melodia to add conspiracy charges against the San Jose Police Department and the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.
SAN JOSE, CA - October 4, 2011 - In a strongly-worded opinion(Case H035033), California's Sixth District Appellate Court reversed a Santa Clara County Superior Court for dismissing a lawsuit alleging that a San Jose Police Detective fabricated evidence in an attempt to convict an innocent man of raping a mentally disabled woman.
San Jose Police Detective Matthew Christian created a document, on letterhead that bore the seal of the Santa Clara County Crime Lab, which falsely stated that Michael Kerkeles's semen was found at the alleged crime scene. The fake report purported to be authored by a technician named "Rebecca Roberts." Christian then testified under oath that the report was true. Mr. Kerkeles was ordered to stand trial after Christian gave this false testimony — which was the only evidence that supported the charges. Christian's fabrication came to light only when Kerkeles' criminal defense attorney called the Crime Lab shortly before trial and learned that no one named Rebecca Roberts worked there and that the report was a fake.
The Appellate Court also reinstated Mr. Kerkeles' claim against the City of San Jose based on evidence SJPD officers routinely created false crime lab reports and there had been other instances where fake reports had been presented in court as genuine. Finally, the justices unanimously ruled that Mr. Kerkeles should be permitted to sue Christian for conspiring with the prosecutor, former Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Jamie Stringfield, based on substantial evidence indicating that she knew the report was a fake and nevertheless presented it to the court as genuine in an attempt to coerce Kerkeles into taking a plea before trial. Notably, Stringfield ignored repeated requests for the fake report's "backup data" even though she had a legal duty to respond to them. The DA's office went so far as to list the fictitious crime lab employee on the trial witness list in order to give credibility to their deceptive strategy. Stringfield also told Kerkeles' lawyer that the report was "bad news" and that Kerkeles should take a plea deal.
"This is a ground breaking decision that makes police officers, prosecutors and the agencies they work for accountable for policies and procedures that trample on the rights of innocent citizens", said Timothy McMahon with the law firm of Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, the attorney representing Mr. Kerkeles in this lawsuit.
McMahon along with Matt Davis, of the law firm of Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger, filed a lawsuit in 2008 asserting that Christian and the City had violated Kerkeles' civil rights. The City moved for, and was granted summary judgment by Judge James Kleinberg, who wrote that the claims should be dismissed because he believed Christian had made an "honest mistake."
In yesterday's ruling, the appellate court reversed Judge Kleinberg's decision, and affirmed that the right to be free from criminal charges based on fabricated evidence is a clearly established constitutional right. The court stated that "[w]hen a police officer creates false information likely to influence a jury's decision and forwards that information to prosecutors, he violates the accused's constitutional right to a fair trial, and the harm occasioned by such an unconscionable action is redressable in an action for damages." The court also said that even though he was not convicted, Kerkeles nevertheless asserted a "real and severe" deprivation of his liberty through having had sexual assault charges hanging over his head for nineteen months.
"The court said that this is not an issue involving abuse of discretion, and that the City of San Jose conceded that either Officer Christian and/or the District Attorney should have realized that the ruse report was fake, suggesting that one or both of them actually knew that it was," said McMahon.