The Supreme Court Wednesday heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by two Iowa men who spent 25 in prison after prosecutors allegedly fabricated evidence against them. Justices seemed divided on the issue of how much immunity prosecutors should enjoy.
The US Supreme Court on Wednesday took up the difficult issue of what to do about unscrupulous prosecutors willing to induce false testimony and hide exculpatory evidence to convict innocent defendants.
At issue in Pottawattamie County v. McGhee is whether two men sent to prison for life are entitled to sue the local prosecutors in Iowa who helped arrange false testimony that led to their wrongful convictions.
Both men served 25 years in prison before being released after investigators discovered the false testimony and uncovered exculpatory evidence never disclosed to defense lawyers.
The high court has long recognized that prosecutors presenting a case at trial enjoy absolute immunity from citizen lawsuits seeking compensation for alleged violations of their constitutional rights.
But the court has also recognized that a prosecutor may not enjoy the protections of absolute immunity when serving not as a trial advocate but as an investigator searching for clues and corroboration that a crime has been committed.
During oral argument on Wednesday, the justices split into three camps. In one camp were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, and Sonia Sotomayor, who appeared primarily concerned with ensuring that victims of such prosecutorial misconduct have a potential remedy through a civil lawsuit.
In another camp were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito who appeared primarily concerned with the potentially "chilling impact" on all prosecutors if the court allowed some defendants to file such citizen lawsuits.