Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Should Prosecuters Be Sued?

Court to decide if prosecutors can be sued

Mon Apr 20, 10:19 am ET

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will consider whether prosecutors have to face a lawsuit from two men whose convictions for killing a retired police officer were set aside.

The justices said Monday they'll hear an appeal in the fall from former Pottawattamie County, Iowa, prosecutors.

They are being sued by Curtis W. McGhee Jr., and Terry Harrington, who were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1978 for the death of retired police officer John Schweer.

The men were released from prison after 25 years. Evidence showed police and prosecutors had failed to share evidence that pointed to another man as a possible suspect in Schweer's slaying. Some witnesses also recanted their testimony.

McGhee and Harrington filed lawsuits against the former prosecutors, including former County Attorney Dave Richter and his assistant Joseph Hrvol. They claimed authorities were eager to charge someone and that they were targeted because they are black. They also sued current County Attorney Matt Wilber after he suggested the right men had been convicted.

Richter and Hrvol argued that they were immune from lawsuits because they were acting within the scope of their job. Federal courts, however, rejected their motions to dismiss the lawsuits, saying the immunity did not extend to them.

The case is Pottawattamie County v. McGhee, 08-1065.

I have always been a fan of law and order. What do we do though when the law is not following the rules?

There is a bit of slippery slope here in that we cannot have prosecutors afraid to do their jobs.

When they intentionally prosecute a man, or men in this case, who they have information that may show their innocence what then? Obviously criminal cases are not clear cut but there are times when the evidence for their innocence outweighs the innocence of their guilt. Should they be allowed to ignore this, bury the evidence, and proceed with a miscarriage of justice?

In a civilized society we need to keep bad people off of the street so they cannot continue to harm others. In a just society the person locked away should be the person who commited the crime.

A victim deserves justice but these men lost 25 years of their lives to a prosecuter that may have broken the rules. They were locked in a cage for a quarter of a century for a crime they may not have committed. This is not justice.

Finally, these may have been bad men. Maybe they committed other crimes, or would have. Maybe the prosecutor ultimately saved us from them. Maybe they committed this crime. Doesn't fairness say they have a right to a fair trial to prove their innocence though?

As strong as I am on law and order, I would like to see the SCOTUS rule in the favor of the convicted men. Real justice demands that the prosecutors follow the same rules of society that they are charged with ensuring we do.



Greywolfe said...

I'm of mixed emotions on this... I hate law suits as a general rule. However, there is a problem here that must be addressed. Tell you what, how about a trial. If the prosecutors are found guilty, then they serve the same time the men falsly accused served.

Yes, they must be confident in their ability to do their jobs, but they must do their jobs with honor and integrity or the system breaks down.

Blackstone's Ratio: "Better 10 guilty men go free then 1 innocent suffer." There are times when I doubt this formula, but it keeps tyranny from taking over the courts if it's held to.

Brooke said...

I'm OK with this.

If the prosecutors knowingly broke the rules to convict someone of a crime they may not have committed then they deserve to serve the same time as the person who was wrongly convicted.

cube said...

Suing prosecutors sounds like a bad idea to me.

I'm not a big fan of the hyper-litigious nature of our society already and can only imagine it growing worse with every criminal in the system suing their prosecutors for not dotting their 'i's on a legal document.

If these prosecutors broke the law, they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

If these men were unjustly incarcerated, then they should receive compensation from the state.

stormin said...

i should certainly hope that prosecuters can be sued for prosecutorial misconduct. this should be a no brainer. how could such a case even go before the Supreme Court? if the law can't go after prosecuters behaving badly then our judicial system would probably be full of Mike Nifong's.

stormin said...

oh wait, i think i have misread the question. i do think that the justice system itself should go after prosecuters that have violated the law in order to get a conviction and that the wrongly accused/imprisoned individual should be made whole by the legal system. i think that's a better way to go then for the wrongly accused/imprisoned to have to file a lawsuit. the legal system should be willing to right the wrong rather then letting someone else do it for them.

James Wolfer said...

I have to agree with you hear. I think that if prosecuters can follow the rules, then they wouldn't have to fear this kind of thing. If they don't, then its just like at my work. If I am doing my job right, and I get sued, my employer will back me up. It happens all the time: We're a financial institution. If I am negligent and fail to do the right thing then they will hang me out to dry.

James Wolfer said...

*here* I mispelled it "hear". Oops. I haven't had my coffee yet.

dmarks said...

My stance on this depends on whether or not the supposed murderers actually did it.

shoprat said...

When a prosecutor knowingly suppresses the truth or allows a lie in court than he should be punished. The key word is knowingly. Think of the Duke Lacrosse players as you think of this.

shoprat said...

Of course the same should apply to Defense Attorneys as well. If the Defense Attorney knew his client was guilty, helped suppress evidence that would have convicted the defendant, and the defendant repeats the crime, that Defense Attorney should also be subject to the same thing.

James Wolfer said...

Actually, it isn't the same.

A prosecuting attorney is supposed to look at all the facts and decide whether it is sufficient to charge someone. They are supposed to find the right person.

A defense attorney's only job is to defend the accused. Its in our Bill of Rights.

Chuck said...

Thanks for all of the comments. It is not an easy decision. I have a tendancy to go with some here in that if they knowingly hide evidence, they should face criminal charges.

Anonymous said...

I understand the policy issues are compelling on both sides, buta fair reading of the facts has convinced me that there must be a line prosecutors cannot cross without being subject to a lawsuit. This blog lays out the facts in a decent nutshell. http://tinyurl.com/d3btzh Anyway, let's hope the Supremes get it right.