At Supreme Court: Can prosecutors be sued for framing defendants?
Two African-American men wrongly imprisoned for 25 years filed a lawsuit against prosecutors for fabricating evidence against them. The Supreme Court hears the case Wednesday.
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"The framing of innocent African-American citizens for a crime they did not commit, lies at the core of what Congress sought to prevent in the Civil Rights statutes," Mr. Clement says in his brief.Skip to next paragraph
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Lawyers for the two prosecutors counter that there is no constitutional right "not to be framed."
The critical question is whether the trial is fair, they say. The constitutional infraction occurs not when the false statements are first obtained, but when they are introduced at trial. Since prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from lawsuits related to the actions they take at trial, any false testimony cannot form the basis of a lawsuit against a prosecutor, they say.
Attorneys general from 27 states and the District of Columbia filed a friend of the court brief urging the high court to embrace this broader view of absolute prosecutor immunity.
However, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Cato Institute, and the American Civil Liberties Union argue for a lower level of immunity that offers prosecutors protection from lawsuits except when they have violated a clearly-established constitutional right.
Confidence in justice system
New Jersey-based group Black Cops Against Police Brutality also filed a friend of the court brief in the case.
"This case is not just about drawing a good lawyerly line between precedents," writes Chicago lawyer Mark Herrmann in a brief for the group. "The facts are that Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee are black and once were young, and that [the murder victim] was white and had been a police captain. Together, these facts made it easy for [the prosecutors] and their accomplices to frame Harrington and McGhee for murder."
Mr. Herrmann writes: "We can imagine few rulings of this Court that would send a more negative message about American criminal justice than to permit white prosecutors to frame African-American suspects for the murder of a white police officer, admit the outrage, and then walk away with impunity, after their victims have wrongfully suffered twenty-five years in prison."
The case is Pottawattamie County, Iowa, v. McGhee and Harrington.
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