Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Major breaking news on the prosecutorial miscoduct front...

A bit of a detour from our normal subject matter.  I've been closely following the Pottawattamie County v. McGhee case that was recently heard by the Supreme Court, specifically because the case addressed prosecutorial misconduct and the absolute immunity afforded to prosecutors in their prosecutions. See, the issue here is that when a prosecutor is acting in his role as an advocate, he's got absolute immunity, he fcuks up, he's immune.  Does that make any sense to you?  Can you imagine a scenario where no matter how bad the prosecutor behaved he wasn't responsible?  The case in question revolves around whether prosecutors who knowingly fabricate evidence to convict an innocent person should be susceptible to lawsuits, or if prosecutors should always have absolute immunity from such suits, no matter how bad their behavior.  

Here is a quick summary of the Pottawattamie County v. McGhee case before the Supreme Court:
In 1978, Curtis McGhee and Terry Harrington were convicted of murdering a retired police officer in Pottawattamie County, Iowa and sentenced to life in prison. Twenty-five years later, the release of new files in the cases revealed that prosecutors had fabricated the testimony of a lead witness at their trials and failed to disclose evidence about an alternative suspect to the defense. The Iowa Supreme Court vacated Harrington’s sentence, and McGhee pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for time served. Both prisoners were freed.
After their release, McGhee and Harrington sued the prosecutors and the county officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court ruled that the prosecutors could be held liable for violating McGhee and Harrington’s substantive due process rights, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed that conclusion.
HOLY SMOKES!  Prosecutors "had fabricated the testimony of a lead witness"!  RUT RO! 
...prosecutors Richter and Hrvol had them arrested without probable cause, coerced and coached witnesses...They claimed authorities were eager to charge someone and that they were targeted because they are black.
DAMN!  Prosecutors  "coerced and coached witnesses"!!  My goodness, this is sounding REALLY, REALLY familiar peoples!

So in a nutshell, for us non lawyer types it went down something like this:
  1. Curtis McGhee and Terry Harrington get charged for murder.
  2. The prosecutors are desperate to convict someone for the murder of a cop.
  3. Said prosecutors take some liberties with the truth and decide to fabricate evidence.
  4. The same prosecutors are having trouble getting the witnesses to say what they need them to say, so they coerce them into saying what they need them to say.
  5. Prosecutors have evidence of another suspect that could have been responsible for the murder, yet they decide to keep that information from the defense.
  6. Defense discovers the prosecutorial misconduct and because of said misconduct, defendants convictions are vacated.
  7. McGhee and Harrington sue the Prosecutors and win.
  8. Prosecutors appeal and lose. 
  9. Case goes to Supreme Court of the United States.
So the case gets heard before the SCOTUS on November 4, 2009.  Based on  the arguments presented to the court from what I can tell it looks like the court is going to rule against the claims of Prosecutorial Immunity, we're all holding our collective breath to see how this case is going to pan out then yesterday we get this bombshell.  The case got settled and dismissed.  We were on the cusp of Supreme Court ruling that could have changed the legal protections that criminal prosecutors get as they do their jobs.  It's not all bad though, consider how confident Pottawattamie County must have been in their case that they decided to pay McGhee and Harrington $12,000,000 instead of waiting for the courts ruling!

We didn't get the supreme court ruling that changed how prosecutors do business but that $12,000,000 settlement sure did send a message!  Mr. Prosecutor, step outside your role as and advocate AND YOUR ASS IS LIABLE!  If I was a misbehaving, dirty dealing, hide and go seek playing with the evidence prosecutor, I would be shitting my pants right about now YO!  Even better, now that Mr. McGhee and Mr. Harrington have their lawsuit against the prosecutors settled and out of the way, THEY STILL HAVE A LAWSUIT PENDING WITH THE POLICE!  Judging by how they fared with their first lawsuit, I'm thinking the PD better get their checkbooks ready...

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