Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Falsely Accused

Faithful readers, the new term has started (on January 4!), but I am still finishing up my grades from last term, so expect minimal blogging for a while longer.

For today, though, let's consider the now-dismissed Supreme Court case of Pottawattamie County v. McGhee. The plaintiffs, some 20 years ago, were convicted of murder, apparently on the basis of false testimony deliberately procured by prosecutors. They brought suit claiming that deliberately procuring false testimony violates their constitutional rights. The case turns on complicated issues of prosecutorial immunity -- sometimes, the law lets prosecutors off even when they do something awful and wrong, because otherwise prosecutors would spend their whole life getting sued -- but among other things, the prosecutors have claimed that there is no constitutional right not to be framed.

The case has been settled, so we won't find out the answer soon, but sheesh, of course there's a constitutional right not to be framed. The Supreme Court decided over 40 years ago, in Brady v. Maryland, that prosecutors have a constitutional duty to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. If prosecutors have framed the defendant by deliberately procuring false testimony against him, they have exculpatory evidence in their possession that they have not turned over -- namely, the fact that they have framed the defendant by deliberately procuring false testimony against him. So framing a defendant necessarily violates his constitutional rights under Brady.

Thank you. Next case.

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