The US Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to consider an unusual question: Do Americans 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?
According to the Obama administration, the answer is no.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan argues in a friend of the court brief that local, state, and federal prosecutors must enjoy absolute immunity from citizen lawsuits – even when they sent innocent men to prison for life by fabricating incriminating evidence and hiding exculpatory evidence.In the case at hand, two Iowa prosecutors solicited false testimony leading to the conviction of two (black) teenagers, Curtis McGhee and Terry Harrington, for the murder of a retired (white) police officer. They were sentenced to life in prison and served 25 years before their innocence came to light.
The right to sue prosecutors in this sort of case would put them on par with law enforcement agents who can face such consequences. Kagan doesn't buy it: "But absolute immunity reflects a policy judgment that such conduct is properly addressed not through civil liability, but through a host of other deterrents and punishments." Very reassuring.
I'm open to the idea of having some form of limited liability for prosecutors who are just doing their job. I can see how lawsuits might get out of hand if prosecutors can just be sued for losing their cases, or making honest mistakes. But this, for instance, was a clear case of criminal intent.