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No Due Process Violation in LA Arrest Mixup

(CN) - A man jailed for one month after Los Angeles police mistook him for a man with the same name and born the same day does not have a due process case, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.

Santiago Rivera was arrested in 1989 on a Los Angeles County warrant issued four years earlier for another Santiago Rivera, born on the same day, and described as a Hispanic male with brown hair and brown eyes, 5-foot-5-inches tall, and 180 pounds.

He was released when a fingerprint analysis revealed that he was not the Rivera sought by the warrant, and the warrant was reissued. It did not mention the case of mistaken identity, however, not did it include the suspect's middle name, which distinguishes it from the wrongfully arrested Rivera.

The same warrant led to the wrong Rivera's arrest again in 2009, this time in San Bernardino. Rivera told the arresting officers he was not the Rivera wanted by the warrant, but could not find any documents related to his clearance 20 years earlier.

After Rivera spent a month in jail, staff at the Los Angeles archives located the true subject's fingerprints and released him.

When the court reissued the warrant for the third time, it included the true subject's middle name and added a photo of the innocent Rivera, as well as his fingerprints, to protect him from yet another wrongful arrest.

Upon his release, Rivera sued Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, and the arresting officers for violations of his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.

A federal judge dismissed his claims, however, and the 9th Circuit affirmed Wednesday, finding that Los Angeles County was not required to include more detailed information in its 1989 warrant.

"In fact, Los Angeles County had a policy of including an 'exoneration' entry that identifies anyone mistakenly arrested on the warrant in the past," Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote for the three-judge panel. "That officials apparently failed to implement that policy properly in this one instance is not sufficient for Los Angeles County to be liable. A single instance is not sufficient to show that a 'practice is so widespread as to have the force of law.'"

In addition, the officers reasonably believed Rivera was the subject of the warrant, and did not have to believe Rivera when he said he was the wrong man, the court found.

"The name and date of birth on the warrant matched Rivera's exactly. The height and weight descriptors associated with the warrant, although not matching Rivera exactly, were within one inch and ten pounds of Rivera's true size," the 19-page opinion states.

And Rivera, for unknown reasons, did not inform the judge at his initial hearing that he was not the man named on the warrant, according to the ruling.

"Rivera was taken before a judge the very next day [following his arrest], a significant procedural protection," O'Scannlain wrote. "It is unclear why Rivera did not assert his claim of mistaken identity at the March 10 court hearing, but the failure to take advantage of a procedural protection does not disprove its availability."

In a partial dissent, Judge Richard Paez said Los Angeles County may have deprived Rivera of liberty without due process.

"We have never suggested that a jailer's duty to investigate is contingent on a detainee first presenting his jailer with supporting evidence," Paez wrote. "Nor can I see any logical basis for limiting a detainee's due process rights to these circumstances."

He added: "Exonerating a jailer of any obligation to investigate once a court remands a detainee to custody is an unsound policy. As this case demonstrates, if the detainee's only recourse is to seek court intervention to verify his identity, he may languish in detention for weeks while the court searches its records for dated physical files."

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