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Hancock v. Chancellor

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

May 3, 2017

JIMMY HANCOCK PLAINTIFF
v.
BLAKE CHANCELLOR, Public Defender; JOHN DOE DETECTIVES AND TRANSPORT OFFICERS, Fayetteville Police Department; and JOHN DOE BOOKING OFFICERS, Washington County Detention Center DEFENDANTS

          OPINION

          P. K. HOLMES, III CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. He proceeds pro se and in forma pauperis. The case is before the court for preservice screening under the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court has the obligation to screen any complaint in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the allegations of the complaint, Plaintiff was represented on pending criminal state charges by Blake Chancellor, a public defender. Plaintiff alleges Chancellor provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Chancellor: failed to give adequate time to Plaintiff's case; did not perform the tasks Plaintiff asked him to; was overworked; was overly tired and almost sleeping in court; and otherwise acted in an unprofessional manner.

         With respect to the John Doe Detectives and Transporting Officers, Plaintiff alleges they threatened him, made promises, and questioned him without advising him of his rights in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Further, he states that at the time he was sick and suffering from drug withdrawal.

         With respect to the John Doe Booking Officers, Plaintiff alleges they violated his constitutional rights by taking a DNA sample.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the PLRA, the Court is obligated to screen the case prior to service of process being issued. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion of it, if it contains claims that: (a) are frivolous or malicious; (b) fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (c) seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         A claim is frivolous if “it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A claim fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “In evaluating whether a pro se plaintiff has asserted sufficient facts to state a claim, we hold ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded . . . to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Jackson v. Nixon, 747 F.3d 537, 541 (8th Cir. 2014)(quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         (A). Assistance of Counsel Claim

         To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant, while acting under color of state law, deprived him of a federal right. In Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981), the Supreme Court held that a public defender does not act under color of state law when performing a lawyer's traditional functions as counsel to indigent defendants in state criminal proceedings. Thus, when the claim is merely that a public defender failed to adequately represent the client in his criminal proceedings, it does not state a cognizable claim under § 1983. See also Gilbert v. Corcoran, 530 F.2d 820 (8th Cir. 1976)(conclusory allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel do not state a claim against public defenders under § 1983).

         (B). Fifth Amendment Claim

         The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that a person may not be compelled to testify against themselves. Kastigar v. United States, 406 U.S. 441, 444 (1972). “[I]t protects against any disclosures which the witness reasonably believes could be used in a criminal ...


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