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October 6, 2010

SCOTUS examining potential liability for prosecutorial misconduct again

Two very interesting cases come before the Supreme Court for oral argument today, and here are the basics via SCOTUSblog:

Snyder v. Phelps: "Does the First Amendment protect protesters at a funeral from liability for intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the family of the deceased? " 

Connick v. Thompson: "Can a prosecutor’s office be held liable for the illegal conduct of one of its prosecutors, on the theory that the office failed to adequately train its employees, when there has been only one violation resulting from that deficient training?"

Though the funeral protest case may get a bit more general attention, criminal justice fans should be sure to keep an eye on Connick v. Thompson.  The Supreme Court in recent Terms has seem willing (perhaps even eager) to extend absolute immunity to nearly all prosecutorial work.  But perhaps because of notable facts and a few new Justices, maybe this case will lead the Court to start moving in a different direction.

For a lot more background on the case, everyone should check out this piece by John Hollway at Slate, which is headlined "Innocent on Death Row -- This week at the Supreme Court: Can a man exonerated of capital murder sue the prosecutor who convicted him?".

October 6, 2010 at 08:24 AM | Permalink


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The exonerated should be able to sue the prosecutor for deviations from professional standards of due care, and not for the mistakes made. Otherwise, there would be strict liability. That would deter the prosecution too much.

I predict the Supreme Court will allow no tort liability, unless they have been reading the comment section of this blog. Prosecutors need tort liability to improve their services. The current state of immunity is bad for them.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 6, 2010 1:54:14 PM

From a criminal sentencing perspective, the interesting tidbit in the Slate piece is that on the date of the offense, the murder was noncapital. Through the shrewd manipulation of the sequence of trials by the prosecutor, the def was tried for another offense first before the murder was tried. That gave the prosecutor the aggravating factor that was needed to turn the case into a capital offense.

In a perverse sort of way, maybe that was okay in the pre-Ring days when death was a more severe punishment for first degree murder. Now, in my opinion, capital murder is a more severe crime than first degree murder and a single aggravator is an element of a greater offense.

As I've said many times, I don't see how a prior conviction, particularly one that happened after the date of offense, can be an element of a crime. Surely smells like an ex post facto violation to me.

I think we are now starting to see on a wide scale how a lot of prosecutors think they can manipulate the system with impunity. We'll see what the Court says.

bruce cunningham

Posted by: bruce cunningham | Oct 6, 2010 9:29:42 PM

Excellent article, keep it coming keep it growing

Posted by: Pandora Braclets | Jun 21, 2011 4:23:06 AM

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