California jails and prisons are supposed to release prisoners promptly once their sentence is completed. But sometimes they fail to do so. This is commonly referred to as “overdetention” in California.
The principal remedy for over-detention in California is a civil lawsuit for monetary damages. If the person is still in jail, a judge can also order the jail or prison to release the individual.
Legal theories on which overdetention cases are based
Common legal theories raised in California over-detention cases often include:
- Wrongful detention in violation of the California Constitution and Civil Code section 52.3;
- Deprivation of federal civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983;
- False imprisonment;1 and/or
- Negligent breach of a mandatory duty under Government Code 815.6 (for instance, the duty to release a prisoner from jail when a case is dismissed, Penal Code 1384).
What damages can I get for overdetention in California?
Damages for over-detention depend on various factors, including:
- Whether the over-detention was negligent or intentional,
- Whether the jail/prison authority engages in a regular practice of overdetention, and
- The legal theory on which damages are based.
But in general, a plaintiff can recover compensatory damages, which can include “non-economic” damages such as emotional distress.
A plaintiff may also be able to recover punitive damages if the violation of his or her rights was intentional.
Examples of recoveries in past California overdetention cases
2002, Los Angeles: $27 million class-action settlement
In 2002, Los Angeles County paid $27 million to settle a class-action lawsuit for overdetention and illegal strip searches. The settlement potentially affected up to 400,000 prisoners. These were inmates who were kept in jail by the L.A. County Sheriff for one to two days past their release date.2
Of the potential class members, 36,626 submitted claims that were approved (a participation rate of 9.15%).The precise amount paid varied depending on:
- The length of the overdetention, and
- Whether the person had been subject to an unlawful strip search.
The maximum payable to any individual defendant was $5,000. 66 named plaintiffs also received an “incentive bonus” in amount ranging from $2,000 to $31,000.
False imprisonment awards against Los Angeles law enforcement agencies
In 2005, an inmate settled an alleged overdetention case with Los Angeles County for $80,000.
In 2009, a prisoner who had been kept in jail for an extra nine months was awarded $21,800 for false imprisonment.
And in a 2012 case called Shoyoye v. County of Los Angeles,3 a jury found false that the Men's Central Jail had falsely imprisoned a prisoner when it accidentally over-detained him. The jury awarded the plaintiff:
- $22,700 in economic damages for past and future lost earnings and property loss, and
- $180,000 in noneconomic damages for past and future pain and suffering.
See, e.g., California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 1407. Unnecessary Delay in Processing/Releasing—Essential Factual Elements.
See Streit v. County of Los Angeles (9th Cir. 2001) 236 F. 3d 552.
Shoyoye v. County of Los Angeles (2012) B223542.