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Haupt v. Dillard

filed: February 25, 1994.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. D.C. No. CV-90-00121-PMP. Philip M. Pro, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: William C. Canby, Jr., and John T. Noonan, Jr., Circuit Judges, and William H. Orrick, Jr.,*fn* District Judge. Opinion by Judge Canby

Author: Canby

CANBY, Circuit Judge:

On November 27, 1987, seven-year-old Alexander Harris disappeared from the video game arcade at Whiskey Pete's Hotel and Casino in Stateline, Nevada, where he had been left by his parents while they went to the casino to gamble. Approximately one month later, his body was discovered beneath a trailer on the casino grounds. An autopsy revealed that he had been murdered on or about the date of his disappearance.

Defendants Dillard and Leonard, detectives with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, were assigned to investigate. After a two-month investigation, they obtained and executed a warrant for Haupt's arrest, charging him with the kidnapping and murder of Alexander Harris. The case was tried to a jury, and Haupt was acquitted of all charges.

Following his acquittal, Haupt brought this action in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that during the course of their investigation and Haupt's subsequent trial, the defendants violated his federal constitutional rights (a) to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, (b) to be free from malicious prosecution, and (c) to a fair and impartial trial.*fn1 He also included claims under Nevada law for defamation, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants on Haupt's federal claims, and then, sua sponte, dismissed Haupt's state claims for lack of jurisdiction.

We reverse the district court's judgment as to Haupt's fair trial and pendent state claims, and affirm as to Haupt's Fourth Amendment and malicious prosecution claims.


We review de novo a district court's grant of summary judgment. Forster v. County of Santa Barbara, 896 F.2d 1146, 1147 (9th Cir. 1990).

I: Haupt's Due Process Claim

We address Haupt's claim of denial of fair trial first because we deem it the most important. In the course of reviewing jury instructions at the close of evidence, the Judge presiding at Haupt's criminal trial indicated to counsel that he intended to give the jury an instruction advising acquittal. The deputy district attorney responded by arguing with the Judge and stating, among other things, that the "blood of Alexander Harris" would be on the Judge's hands if he proceeded to give that instruction. The following day, defendant Dillard telephoned the Judge to argue against the jury instruction, telling him that giving it was "ridiculous." Before charging the jury, the Judge stated, for the record, that he felt "threatened" and "intimidated" by Dillard and the deputy district attorney, and "because of that [he did] not dare now give the advisory verdict of acquittal."

Despite the evidence of this egregious behavior, the district court granted summary judgment for defendants on Haupt's claim that this incident violated his due process right to a fair and impartial trial. The district court held that "the fact that [Haupt] was ultimately acquitted conclusively shows that he received a fair trial." But the acquittal does not erase all injury.

The right to a fair trial is "a basic requirement of due process" and includes the right to an unbiased Judge. In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 99 L. Ed. 942, 75 S. Ct. 623 (1955). Here, Haupt charges that defendants intimidated the Judge into changing his jury instructions. If this allegation is true, Haupt did not get the unbiased Judge to which he was entitled. The fact that Haupt ultimately was acquitted speaks only to the amount of damages he suffered; it is irrelevant to whether he has a cause of action. We dealt with an analogous situation in Cooper v. Dupnik, 963 F.2d 1220 (9th Cir. 1992) (en banc), where we held that interrogation of a suspect in violation of his Miranda rights was actionable even though the suspect was never charged and the resulting statement was never used; those facts were "relevant only to damages, not to whether he has a civil cause of action in the first place." Id. at 1245; see also, Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 266, 55 L. Ed. 2d 252, 98 S. Ct. 1042 (1978) (violation of right to procedural due process actionable without proof of actual injury).

Venegas v. Wagner, 704 F.2d 1144 (9th Cir. 1983), upon which the district court relied, is not to the contrary. Venegas stands only for the proposition that, when a plaintiff alleges violation of his right to a fair trial and that violation resulted in a conviction, the conviction is the primary injury and the statute of ...

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