Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Court takes prosecutorial immunity case (March 22, 2010)

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a district attorney's office can be held liable for the actions of prosecutors in the case of a former death row inmate who accused them of withholding evidence to help convict him of murder.

The case concerns John Thompson, who was convicted of attempted armed robbery in 1985, shortly before he was scheduled to stand trial in an unrelated murder case. He did not testify during the murder trial. Prosecutors used Thompson's conviction in the robbery case to help secure the death penalty in the murder case.

In 1999, an investigator working on Thompson's case discovered a crime lab report that prosecutors had not turned over, indicating Thompson's blood type did not match the perpetrator in the attempted robbery.

A state appeals court set aside Thompson's murder conviction in 2002 after deciding he'd been unconstitutionally deprived of his right to testify during the murder trial. That cleared the way for the new trial in which Thompson was acquitted.

After Thompson's acquittal, he sued the district attorney's office that was led at the time of his 1985 conviction by Harry Connick, alleging that evidence had been wrongfully withheld.

The current Orleans Parish District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, has said the judgment is roughly equal to his office's annual operating budget and would have "devastating" financial consequences.

On March 22, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case for review. The justices will hear oral arguments in the fall.

Question presented: Does imposing liability for failing to train a prosecutor on a district attorney’s office for a single Brady violation contravene rigorous culpability and causation standards?


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