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theagitator.com: Supreme Court Firms Up State Immunity From Wrongful Conviction Lawsuits


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By a ideologically right-left, 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today (PDF) that a wrongly convicted Louisiana man—who at one point was just weeks away from execution—isn’t permitted to sue the DA’s office that for 14 years sat on the evidence proving his innocence.

Jacob Sullum wrote about Connick v. Thompson in March of last year. As Sullum pointed out, while it’s clear that prosecutors knew about the evidence for years (a bloody piece of cloth), there are competing theories about whether they knew they had to turn the cloth over and willfully withheld it anyway, or if they simply didn’t know they were obligated to turn it over. (As Sullum also noted, it’s hard to decide which scenario is worse.) The latter seems rather unlikely, even though during the civil trial, Orelans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick and his assistants apparently couldn’t articulate the Brady Rule, the law requiring the disclosure of such evidence. Of course, the former—the willful misconduct—is also much harder to prove.

In any case, the Court’s ruling today, taken with past rulings, further illustrates how the old mantra that “ignorance of the law is no excuse” seems to apply to everyone except actual members of law enforcement.

The ruling also negates a $14 million jury award to John Thompson, the man wrongly convicted. It also means that for his 18 years in prison, 14 of which he spent on death row, Thompson will now at most get $150,000, the maximum compensation for a wrongful conviction allowed under Louisiana law.

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Our entire system of justice is based on an honor code with no teeth. Prosecutors are legally supposed to turn over evidence but if they don't nothing happens. That coupled with the need to have a good conviction record to keep your job and advance in your career pretty much seals the deal.

But you know what sad? No one will care. The press won't talk about it. We'll debate if democrats or the republicans are destroying the constitution and ignore this ruling.

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Why didn't he sue the individual prosecutor who did this? It strikes me the Court would've upheld a Constitutional tort against the individual prosecutor(s) who did this; especially given the strong language thrown at how lawyers are expected to be able to apply the appropriate law and cases, and are bound by ethics as well. I agree with the Court that once this precedent is set, it opens the door for all sorts of other lawsuits in similar manner related to failure to train.

More interested to see how the court rules in that Kentucky 4th Amendment case... that road has been and re-paved too much the past 30 years... I can't remember the case that opened the floodgates but the dissent struck me as quite perceptive. Of course if we get another liberal justice things could just as easily turn the other way (not that I agree 100% with either conservatives or liberals).

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Great (read sarcasm). As I understand the logic, it goes something like this:

1) The prosecutor says I would never have knowingly violated the logic from the Brady rulings. I wouldn't have intentionally hid some thing that might cause him to go to jail and have an execute date.

2) So if the prosecutor would not have knowingly done this, it must be a problem with your training so next time this won't happen.

If option 2 is the case, then the municpality is legally at fault because the proscutors acting in its name weren't trained to do the job. That was the ruling that lead to the 14million award. The Supreme court vacated this ruling under the logic of if Brady training was truely insufficient than there would have been far more cases overturned. So what we have is a situation where unless the prosecutor admits to knowingly not giving the defense evidence in their possession it is impossible to sue and win. Their logic essentially just reaffirms prosecutorial immunity because they can claim they weren't trained for contingency x.

I'm also not as sure of the logic used to say with only a few cases over turned for Brady violations, the training must be adequate. I'd like to think most prosecutions are pursued for "guilty" suspects. Expecting more evidence to be with held if the Brady ruling isn't being followed means expecting there to be more evidence of innocence. What if our cops are actually pretty good at arresting the right guy/gal?

I'm not sure justice has been served any better in this supreme court ruling than it was in the original 2 cases.

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