Supreme Court Tackles Prosecutorial Immunity

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a very interesting case. The question before the Court in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, v. McGhee and Harrington is : Do citizens who have been framed by unscrupulous prosecutors for crimes they did not commit have a right to sue the prosecutors when the fraud is finally exposed?
Most public officials have qualified immunity, which means that they can’t be sued personally for actions taken in the course of their public duties unless it can be shown that they willfully violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights. In almost all cases qualified immunity is enough to prevent suits against public officials.
The position taken by the federal government and being joined in by many state’s attorney generals is not that prosecutors should only be held accountable for wrongful convictions if it can be proven that they proactively and intentionally created false evidence or violated the clear legal and ethical requirements of their position.
But, the government is taking the position that all prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from lawsuits for actions they take even when they send innocent people to prison for life by fabricating evidence and hiding exculpatory evidence.
Under this argument no prosecutor could ever be sued under any circumstances even if it can be proven conclusively that they intentionally faked evidence and lied to the court, destroying the life of an innocent person.
According to briefs filed in the case, prosecutors in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, solicited false testimony implicating two innocent African-American teens in the murder of a retired police officer in 1977. At trial, the false testimony led to their convictions and they were sentenced to life in prison.
After the false testimony and other exculpatory evidence was discovered, the two men, Curtis McGhee and Terry Harrington, were released after 25 years in prison. They then filed a lawsuit against the prosecutors.
Lawyers for Mr. McGhee and Mr. Harrington argued that police officers who fabricate evidence do not enjoy such absolute protection from a civil lawsuit. They say prosecutors who actively participate in the pre-trial investigation of a case must be held to the same standard as police officers, detectives, and agents, who can be sued if they violate clearly-established constitutional rights.

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