Do You Have the Right Not To Be Framed?
The Supreme Court hears oral argument today in Pottawattamie County v McGee, wherein they will have to decide if prosecutors have immunity from lawsuits even if they frame someone for murder.
On one side of the case being argued are Iowa prosecutors who contend “there is no freestanding right not to be framed.” They are backed by the Obama administration, 28 states and every major prosecutors organization in the country.
On the other side are two black men — Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee — men who served 25 years in prison before evidence long hidden in police files resulted in them being freed.
The Supreme Court has indeed said that prosecutors are immune from suit for anything they do at trial. But in this case, Harrington and McGhee maintain that before anyone being charged, prosecutors gathered evidence alongside police, interviewed witnesses and knew the testimony they were assembling was false.
Hard though it might be to believe, this is actually a difficult decision. The balance between protecting diligent prosecutors from suit and protecting defendants from the bad apples is not a simple thing. The good news is that a case like this is amenable to a bright-line rule against intentional misconduct. The bad news is, the Supreme Court has shown a consistent disdain for bright-line rules for some time.
Heretical Ideas previewed this case last month.