When prosecutors deliberately frame two innocent men for murder and get them sentenced to life in prison without parole, are they covered by absolute immunity? All I can say is, I hope not.
Here are the facts, per Nina Totenberg.
The principal witness was 16-year-old Kevin Hughes, who had a criminal record, and after being arrested in a stolen car, first fingered twoother men, one of whom turned out to have been in jail on the night of the crime.
After his first stories didn’t pan out, Hughes implicated Harrington and McGhee, but his eyewitness account was riddled with errors.
He initially got the site of the shooting wrong and the weapon. He said the murder was committed with a handgun, then said a 20-gauge shotgun and finally a 12-gauge shotgun.
He also failed a polygraph test. According to lawyers for Harrington and McGhee, the Council Bluffs police and prosecutors knew all this and more. But they went ahead and indicted the two men, winning convictions before an all-white jury.
That may not be an accurate or complete statement of the case. But the claim of the lawyers for the prosecutors is that even those facts wouldn’t constitute a cause of action, because prosecutors have absolute immunity for their conduct at trial and their massive cheating at the investigative stage inflicted no independent injury: it was the conviction, not the accusation, that did the damage. No, seriously.
I can understand requiring lawsuits against prosecutors (and judges) to be run through some sort of screening first so they can’t be used to harass. But (speaking as a non-lawyer) the whole idea of absolute immunity for anyone makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t really want these guys sued: I’d rather see them put on trial for, among other things, subornation of perjury. But of course the victims spent so much time behind bars before being freed that the statute of limitations has long since run.
I can understand why the Justice Department weighed in on the prosecutors’ side; that’s pretty much a reflex action. But it’s a reflex I’d like to see the new leadership at DoJ start to suppress.