Prosecutors long have been shielded from lawsuits brought by people who were wrongly convicted. The Supreme Court has ruled that “absolute immunity” is needed so that prosecutors and judges can do their jobs without fear of legal retaliation, says the Los Angeles Times. A California case the high court may take could open a back door for such lawsuits. Los Angeles prosecutors are urging the court to block a suit from a man who was wrongly convicted of murder because, they say, it will allow “a potential flood” of similar claims nationwide.
Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that supervising prosecutors could be sued for alleged management failures that led to a wrongful conviction. Its ruling cleared the way for Thomas L. Goldstein to sue former Los Angeles District Attorney John Van de Kamp. The suit alleges that Van de Kamp and his top deputy failed to set up a system to monitor the use of testimony from jail informants. Goldstein was ordered released after 24 years in prison after the sole eyewitness recanted and doubts emerged about a supposed confession by Goldstein to an informant. The immunity rule should be preserved as an important judicial safeguard, said law Prof. Laurie Levenson of Loyola Uniersity. “We don’t want [prosecutors] looking over their shoulders. In order to be independent and to make tough calls, they can’t be worrying about whether they will be sued.”