Man Can Sue Officials for Extra 19 Months in Prison

     (CN) – A sex offender can sue California officials under state law for allegedly keeping him in prison 19 months after the law under which he was convicted was overturned, the 9th Circuit ruled.

     William Henry Cousins, a former California prison inmate, filed suit against several state officials, including former state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, alleging that he was wrongly held beyond the time he should have been released.
     Cousins was arrested in June 1999 in San Jose, Calif., for failing to register as a felony sex offender within five days of entering the city. The Santa Clara District Attorney charged him with two counts of failing to register, and in 2000, after a jury conviction, he was sentenced to 25 years to life under California’s “three strikes” law.
     In 2004, Cousins argued to the California Supreme Court that he should be released because the statute under which he was imprisoned had been declared unconstitutionally vague by a state appeals court in October 2003.
     Cousins was released from prison in June 2005, one year and seven months after the statute that led to his conviction was overturned.
     He then filed a federal complaint, alleging that his extended incarceration violated his constitutional rights to due process, freedom from unseasonable seizure, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
     The district court dismissed the complaint and granted the state’s motion that the attorney general be entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity.
     Cousins appealed, arguing that because the California Attorney General’s Office handled the appeal that resulted in the invalidation of the law that released him, the attorney general was liable for his failure to notify the courts of the change “so that (Cousins’) sentence could be changed accordingly.”
     But the San Francisco-based appeals court found that the lower court correctly granted qualified immunity to the attorney general and other prosecutors on the federal claims, because they had been acting within the scope of their duties.
     “However, we reverse and remand Cousins’ state causes of action,” Judge Smith wrote. “His state false imprisonment claim is not subject to any state statutory immunity; his remaining state claims are all derivative of that claim; and none of his state claims is subject to the federal common law doctrine of qualified immunity.”

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