United States District Court, N.D. California
December 19, 2005.
DARIO TONY DRAKES, Plaintiff,
OAKLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT; et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge
ORDER OF DISMISSAL
Dario Tony Drakes, an inmate at the California Correctional
Center in Susanville, has filed a pro se civil rights action
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his complaint, Drakes seeks damages
because his criminal trial was delayed for a week in February
without explanation, false evidence was presented at his criminal
trial, and the defense attorneys lied to him about evidence. His
complaint is now before the court for review pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any
case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity
or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable
claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious,
fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek
monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
See id. at 1915A(b)(1),(2). Pro se pleadings must be
liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't,
901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution
or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the
violation was committed by a person acting under the color of
state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).
The complaint has three fatal defects. First, Drakes cannot
obtain damages for the alleged constitutional violations during
his criminal trial under the Heck rule. The case of Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), held that a plaintiff cannot
bring a civil rights action for damages for a wrongful conviction
or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid,
unless that conviction or sentence already has been determined to
be wrongful. See id. at 486-87. A conviction or sentence may
be determined to be wrongful by, for example, being reversed on
appeal or being set aside when a state or federal court issues a
writ of habeas corpus. See id. The Heck rule also prevents
a person from bringing an action that even if it does not
directly challenge the conviction or other decision would imply
that the conviction or other decision was invalid. The practical
importance of this rule is that a plaintiff cannot attack his
conviction in a civil rights action for damages; the decision
must have been successfully attacked before the civil rights
action for damages is filed. Heck bars Drakes' claims that his
constitutional rights were violated by the delay in his criminal
trial, the presentation of false evidence in that trial, and the
alleged ineffectiveness of his attorneys because success on any
of those claims would imply that the conviction was invalid.
These causes of action for damages do not accrue until Drakes'
conviction is set aside.*fn1 Second, regardless of whether Heck applies, Drakes cannot
assert a § 1983 claim for relief against his public or private
defense attorneys for their performance in connection with his
criminal trial and handling of evidence in connection with the
trial. A public defender does not act under color of state law,
an essential element of an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, when
performing a lawyer's traditional functions, such as entering
pleas, making motions, objecting at trial, cross-examining
witnesses, and making closing arguments. Polk County v. Dodson,
454 U.S. 312, 318-19 (1981). Private defense attorneys also would
not be acting under color of state law when performing similar
functions. Thus, Drakes cannot sue his criminal defense attorneys
in federal court for their actions taken as defense attorneys in
connection with his criminal case.
Third, the superior court judge listed among the defendants has
absolute judicial immunity against Drakes' claim that the start
of the trial was delayed or false evidence was introduced at the
trial because the alleged acts were judicial acts. A state judge
is absolutely immune from civil liability for damages for acts
performed in his judicial capacity. See Pierson v. Ray,
386 U.S. 547, 553-55 (1967) (applying judicial immunity to actions
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Judicial immunity is an immunity from
suit for damages, not just from an ultimate assessment of
damages. See Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985).
The complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. Leave to amend will not be granted because it would be
futile. This action therefore is dismissed. The clerk shall close
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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