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Wrongfully convicted of two crimes, award for damages overturned

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Greebo
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http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110329/ap_on_re_us/us_supreme_court_exonerated_inmate

Summary:

Man is convicted wrongfully of armed robbery (exonerating evidence withheld by DA).

Said conviction is used to convict for murder, despite eye witness description not matching the accused. Sentence: Death.

After release, awarded $14M in damages, but ultimately overturned by US Supreme Court, reducing damages to state limit of $150,000.

LEGALLY, the Court may have acted appropriately - complying with state law and all that - but morally, the State of LA has effectively declared itself IMMUNE to serious harm no matter how much harm it inflicts on others.

Should the US Supreme Court have ignored the state defined limits in this case?

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Those prosecutors involved in this mans case should be disbarred. This is yet another example why the death penalty is insane. This guy was weeks away from being executed because "young prosecutors" were not aware that they were obligated to turn over evidence that could exonerate him (Brady rights). Looking at this objectively, does a prosecutor have to be pulled aside and explicitly told that if he has evidence that will save an innocent mans life that he should turn it in? I guess winning is more important than justice in former DA Harry Connicks office. Pathetic.

Edit: My rant didnt answer your question. The man was awarded $8,333.00 for every year he spent in prison, how much of that is punitive damages for the psychological hell he surely faced on death row I wonder? I dont know enough about the legal system to make an objective evaluation but prima facie, Im with Ginsburg. This guy should never have to worry about anything else as long as he lives.

Edited by JayR
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The man was awarded $8,333.00 for every year he spent in prison, how much of that is punitive damages for the psychological hell he surely faced on death row I wonder? I dont know enough about the legal system to make an objective evaluation but prima facie, Im with Ginsburg. This guy should never have to worry about anything else as long as he lives.

As horrible as what this man endured there is a question that must be asked in response:

"from whom"?

"provided by whom"?

You did not violate this man's rights, nor did I, nor did anyone not directly involved in this case.

One could say it is immoral for an innocent party (you, me, Dante, Softwarenerd, whoever) to be fined and taxed to pay retribution on a violation they had no part of.

I would say the nearest thing to righteousness would be that the prosceuting attorneys who withheld evidence should be pursued for civil penalties (in a rights respecting society).

It is the way of people to scream for the government to have to make big payouts- without thought to whose rights need to be violated to obtain said monies.

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I definitely agree that the prosecuting attorney should be personally liable as well, to pay up in the first instance. However, I think those who employ the attorney might have some liability. Whether they do or not depend on the facts of the case.

You did not violate this man's rights, nor did I, nor did anyone not directly involved in this case.

One could say it is immoral for an innocent party (you, me, Dante, Softwarenerd, whoever) to be fined and taxed to pay retribution on a violation they had no part of.

If the guy was failed by the system itself, and not just by a bad attorney, I would argue that his rights were violated by an institution acting as my agent. He ought to be compensated appropriately for damages suffered. I see it as a cost of running the justice system, no different from paying the salary of that errant prosecutor.

I also think there ought to be extremely severe criminal penalties for people involved in law enforcement who knowingly withhold evidence that could get a defendant off, and that some third-party agency should make it their job to prosecute such cases, so that not much discretion is left to the institution that was involved in the first place.

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As horrible as what this man endured there is a question that must be asked in response:

"from whom"?

"provided by whom"?

Thats certainly the question to be asked, and its one that I dont know the answer to. Is it necessarily taxpayers who pick up the tab in a case like this? I dont know, thats why I didnt pretend to have an objective evaluation. While resposibility probably shouldnt fall on taxpayers (I work hard for my money), 8300 bucks a year for wrongfully sitting on death row for 18 years is not justice. How is justice brought about? I dont know, an eye for an eye is not rational, but I dont want my eyes (or money) involved at all.

Edited by JayR
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If the guy was failed by the system itself, and not just by a bad attorney, I would argue that his rights were violated by an institution acting as my agent. He ought to be compensated appropriately for damages suffered. I see it as a cost of running the justice system, no different from paying the salary of that errant prosecutor.

Thats an interesting take on the situation, Im not inclined to disagree. Its a tough situation though, spreading the rights violating around, diluting in a sense is not the right answer, and has the whiff of pragmatism. But whence comes justice? The guys who screwed up should pay, thats one side. The guy who got screwed should be paid. How can both happen objectively/justly without screwing any third parties? Such is the nature of western pragmatism I guess.

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Thats an interesting take on the situation, Im not inclined to disagree. Its a tough situation though, spreading the rights violating around, diluting in a sense is not the right answer, and has the whiff of pragmatism. But whence comes justice? The guys who screwed up should pay, thats one side. The guy who got screwed should be paid. How can both happen objectively/justly without screwing any third parties? Such is the nature of western pragmatism I guess.
Pragmatism!
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Are rare occurrences, such as this one, justification for an "anti-capital punishment" stance? The man was only weeks away from being executed as I read it; the timing of his release could not have been more last minute.

Doctors have malpractice insurance... why don't lawyers and prosecutors?

I'm fairly certain that they do.

Edited by OCSL
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As horrible as what this man endured there is a question that must be asked in response:

"from whom"?

"provided by whom"?

You did not violate this man's rights, nor did I, nor did anyone not directly involved in this case.

One could say it is immoral for an innocent party (you, me, Dante, Softwarenerd, whoever) to be fined and taxed to pay retribution on a violation they had no part of.

Every resident of Louisiana has violated that man's rights because the state prosecutor was acting on behalf of the state's residents.

This is why people need to pay attention to politics.

Judges and grand juries have long had common law immunity for their official actions to civil suits after defendants are acquitted. It would not be favorable to the rule of law if only guaranteed convictions ever went to trial. Prosecutors need also be immune to suits from losing cases or else no one would ever want to be a prosecutor and the law would not be enforced.

The additional legal doctrine of prosecutorial absolute immunity was invented by the Supreme Court in 1976 in order to justify the ruling in the case of Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976). In that case Imbler was wrongfully convicted, and Pachtman was the prosecutor who convicted him. Yet it was Pachtman himself who came forward with the new evidence that Imbler used to overturn his conviction. It was Imbler's suit against Pachtman that the Supreme Court ruled on.

Quoting from the Supreme Court opinion "In his brief to the Supreme Court of California on this habeas petition, Imbler's counsel described Pachtman's post-trial detective work as "in the highest tradition of law enforcement and justice," and as a premier example of "devotion to duty." 6 But he also charged that the prosecution had knowingly used false testimony and suppressed material evidence at Imbler's trial. 7"

Again, who would want to take on the job of prosecutor if doing the job conscientiously and changing one's conclusion about the case leads to being sued? That would serve neither justice nor the rule of law.

Quoting from the decision section of the opinion Imbler v. Pachtman:

"We emphasize that the immunity of prosecutors from [424 U.S. 409, 429] liability in suits under 1983 does not leave the public powerless to deter misconduct or to punish that which occurs. This Court has never suggested that the policy considerations which compel civil immunity for certain governmental officials also place them beyond the reach of the criminal law. Even judges, cloaked with absolute civil immunity for centuries, could be punished criminally for willful deprivations of constitutional rights on the strength of 18 U.S.C. 242, 28 the criminal analog of 1983. O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 503 (1974); cf. Gravel v. United States, 408 U.S. 606, 627 (1972). The prosecutor would fare no better for his willful acts. 29 Moreover, a prosecutor stands perhaps unique, among officials whose acts could deprive persons of constitutional rights, in his amenability to professional discipline by an association of his peers. 30 These checks undermine the argument that the imposition of civil liability is the only way to insure that prosecutors are mindful of the constitutional rights of persons accused of crime. [424 U.S. 409, 430]

Brady v. Maryland is a related case Thompson bases his argument upon. Brady refers to the holding of the Brady case, and the numerous state and federal cases that interpret its requirement that the prosecution disclose material exculpatory evidence to the defense. Exculpatory evidence is “material” if “there is a reasonable probability that his conviction or sentence would have been different had these materials been disclosed.”

This case Connick v Thompson, 09-571 is about the standard of evidence required to establish that it is a deliberate policy of a prosecutors office to make Brady violations. Thompson tried to make the case that one obvious case was enough to establish a pattern. The majority found that not persuasive. Ginsburg in the dissent notes the high rate of turnover of prosecutors under Connick's direction and that at least four different prosecutors handled this case and made the same error. Scalia provides a separate concurring opinion refuting Ginsburg's reasoning and question whether there really were any Brady violations in the case at all. The case is largely premised on Connick's conceding that Brady violations occurred but Connick's understanding of Brady law is under attack by Thompson, Ginsburg and Scalia simultaneously for different reasons.

It is not obvious that this case is decided rightly or wrongly. I am not outraged at the Supreme Court but at the State of Louisiana for limiting its own liability to $150,000 when it is clearly capable of inflicting much more damage than that, in this and other cases. (Thompson had already won compensation at the state level, the $14 million dollar judgement was based on the federal case which he just lost.)

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Should the US Supreme Court have ignored the state defined limits in this case?

Yes. Doesn't mean that they should've kept the original damages in place (I'm not familiar enough with the case to say what damages should be awarded), but that cap is a joke. Why would countless years of a man's life, no matter how unjustly and fraudulently he is deprived of them, be worth a maximum of US$150.000? It's so obviously ridiculous, I don't understand how it could exist.

If there has to be a cap (and I guess in this society there has to be one, otherwise most people would just start awarding each other tens or hundreds of millions like it's nothing), it should be on a 'per month/year spent in jail' basis, instead.

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Are rare occurrences, such as this one, justification for an "anti-capital punishment" stance? The man was only weeks away from being executed as I read it; the timing of his release could not have been more last minute.

Imagine for a moment that he HAD been executed, wrongfully, and then the exonerating evidence had come to light.

How could ANY restitution be made at that point? How could the dead man be made whole?

IF a Death penalty is to be invoked - and I think there are cases that warrant it - there must be absolutely no possibility of doubt. There must be absolute certainty - "beyond a reasonable doubt" simply isn't enough in cases warranting death.

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