Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.
In November 1999, Floyd Bledsoe was 23 years old, working as a farmhand and living with his wife, their two young children and his wife’s 14-year-old sister Camille Arfmann. Floyd Bledsoe’s brother Tom Bledsoe lived nearby with their parents.
On Nov. 5, Arfmann arrived home from school at about 4:20 p.m. but wasn’t home when her friend stopped by later. Tom Bledsoe told police Arfmann had been shot several times, and her body was hidden in his trash dump. Tom Bledsoe confessed to Arfmann’s murder on Nov. 7.
Despite this, Floyd Bledsoe was convicted and spent sixteen years in prison for the murder of Arfmann — a crime he didn’t commit.
In 2015, new DNA testing and a suicide note from Tom Bledsoe supported Floyd Bledsoe’s longstanding claim that his brother was the killer. A state court subsequently vacated his conviction, and all charges against him were dismissed.
In 2016, Floyd Bledsoe filed an action against ten defendants, the majority of whom were law enforcement officers. Floyd Bledsoe alleged the defendants conspired to fabricate evidence implicating him in the murder and suppressing evidence.
Floyd Bledsoe alleged the defendant’s plan to frame him was to have Tom Bledsoe recant his confession and to coach Tom Bledsoe to explain that he knew the details of the murder because Floyd Bledsoe told him. The defendants, Floyd Bledsoe claimed, committed several acts to frame him, including telling Tom Bledsoe to continue lying, falsifying lie detector tests, withholding evidence of Tom Bledsoe’s guilt and skewing the investigation toward Floyd Bledsoe.
This appeal was in reference to the district court’s denial of a motion to dismiss by the defendants, who asserted they were entitled to qualified immunity because Floyd Bledsoe failed to state claims that the defendants deprived him of his constitutional rights and any constitutional violations were not clearly established in 1999 when the events at issue occurred. The district court denied most of the qualified immunity claims.
A 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel out of Kansas City, Kansas, affirmed in part the district court’s judgment and reversed in part. The 10th Circuit concluded Floyd Bledsoe adequately alleged substantive due process and Fourth Amendment claims against each appellant for suppressing exculpatory evidence, a malicious prosecution claim, conspiracy claims and a failure-to-intervene claim. The court also concluded that all the constitutional violations Floyd Bledsoe alleged, except his failure-to-intervene claim, were clearly established in 1999.