"I do not suggest that it is always easy to distinguish between policies that are prosecutorial in nature and procedures that are administrative in nature. That point
notwithstanding, it is the proper inquiry. Line drawing is frequently a difficult task for jurists. It is, however, one we perform regularly."
-- Judge Reinhardt's concurrence in Goldstein v. City of Long Beach
Thomas Goldstein can sue the Los Angeles County District Attorney for the part it played in the wrongful conviction that sent him to prison for 24 years for a murder he did not commit, thanks to a recent opinion on Section 1983 lawsuits by the Ninth Circuit.
Goldstein was convicted on the basis of perjured testimony of a notorious "jailhouse informant." But in light of the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Goldstein v. City of Long Beach, he will now be able to sue the district attorney for civil damages with a Section 1983 lawsuit for its administrative failure in not creating a database regarding such informants and training its deputies in the proper use of such database.
Had such a database regarding jailhouse informants existed at the time of Goldstein's trial, his defense attorney might have had the impeachment information it needed to discredit the lying jailhouse informant and secure an acquittal.
The opinion in Goldstein v. City of Long Beach is important, as it clears the way for certain kinds of Section 1983 lawsuits against district attorneys. Such lawsuits are difficult and involve obstacles. No matter how egregious the prosecutor's conduct, you generally cannot sue under Section 1983 because of prosecutorial immunity and because you can't sue a "state" actor under Section 1983 the way you can sue a "county" actor.
The judges issuing the opinion in Goldstein were not deterred by these hurdles. Instead of throwing up their hands in defeat, they did the hard analytical work of line-drawing...and determined that Goldstein's lawsuit is consistent with Section 1983 jurisprudence as well as justice.