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Can Prosecutors who Frame Defendants Be Sued?

Courtesy of Taylor Media Services | 11/17/2009, 11:52 p.m.

Black Victims Argue Yes; Obama Administration Argues No; U.S. Supreme Court Will Decide

The facts of the case are not really in dispute. Two African American men from Iowa spent 25 years in prison for allegedly killing a retired white police officer in 1977. But it was later discovered that prosecutors in the case had solicited false testimony in order to convict the then teenage Black men.

When the false testimony from supposed witnesses and other exculpatory evidence were revealed the two men were released from prison.
However, freedom was not enough for Curtis McGhee and Terry Harrington. Shortly after their release they filed a lawsuit against the prosecutors who framed them.
Historically, however, local, state and federal prosecutors have enjoyed absolute immunity from lawsuits even when they did great wrongs.
The case threw the Obama administration into a difficult situation. It either had to defend €the system€ or help correct what most Americans would probably agree was a great injustice.

The administration chose to defend the system. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed by Solicitor General Elena Kagan, it argued that absolute immunity for prosecutors was essential to a strong judicial system. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

Lawyers for McGhee and Harrington argued that prosecutors should be treated like police officers and only enjoy qualified immunity from lawsuits. Paul Clement, a former solicitor general, went further saying the case was actually a civil rights case. According to Clement, €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 statues.€

The high court may not actually decide the case until this spring.