Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Supreme Court: Major Prosecutorial Misconduct Case Settled

One of the major criminal justice cases of the current Term of the United States Supreme Court has been settled after oral argument.

As I reported in November, Pottawattamie County, Iowa v. McGhee raised the question of the limits on prosecutorial immunity from civil suit.

The Supreme Court has long held that prosecutors are immune from civil suit for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for actions and decisions taken in connection with the prosecution of a case. In Pottawattamie County the claim was made that the prosecutor procured false testimony during the investigation of a case and then used that testimony against the defendant at trial. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that there is no prosecutorial immunity "where the prosecutor was accused of both fabricating evidence and then using the fabricated evidence at trial."

Oral argument was heard by the Supreme Court on November 4. On Monday the plaintiff's law firm announced that the case has been settled for $12 million, which suggests that the defendant county was not encouraged by the Justices' questions at oral argument.

I am not aware whether statistics are kept of cases which are settled after the Supreme Court has granted the writ of certiorari and heard oral argument. I am certain, however, that Pottawattamie County is very unusual.

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