Each of these men was wrongfully convicted for a Los Angeles murder he did not commit -- in O'Connell's case a 1984 murder and in Carrillo's case a 1991 murder -- and in each of the cases the police officers investigating the crimes withheld material and exculpatory evidence from the defense.
The withheld information included faults in eyewitness identifications among other things. The Supreme Court of the United States has made clear at least since the 1963 case of Brady v. Maryland that fairness and due process requires such information to be turned over to the defense as "Society wins not only when the guilty are convicted, but when criminal trials are fair; our system of the administration of justice suffers when any accused is treated unfairly."
The men languished in prison for years. Finally, however, the concealed evidence was unearthed and the men were freed through habeas corpus proceedings.
But the road to justice is NOT over for Frank O'Connell and Francisco Carrillo. They now seek to hold the officers who withheld the exculpatory information and violated Brady v. Maryland accountable for the harm they caused. They filed Section 1983 lawsuits in federal court.
But the police officer defendants tried to wiggle out of accountability by claiming that they are "immune" from liability for violating the civil rights of Frank O'Connell and Francisco Carrillo because the law of disclosure under Brady v. Maryland was not "clearly established" in 1984 and 1991.
Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit is not going to give these police officers a pass for their unconstitutional and harmful conduct. The Ninth Circuit just confirmed in Carrillo v. Cty of Los Angeles et al. that the right of an accused to exculpatory information was clearly established in 1984 and 1991, that any reasonable police officer would have known that, and that O'Connell and Carrillo will get to bring their Section 1983 lawsuits to federal juries.
The officers' arguments are wrong under the law and they are wrong under common sense. The police in these cases were charged with investigating crimes. They manipulated witness identifications and concealed material and exculpatory information so that they could railroad two men into life sentences and close out cases. No amount of legal wordsmithing can make such fundamentally unfair and unjust behavior understandable or excusable.