Should prosecutors be held responsible for framing defendants? Supreme Court justices seemed to struggle with the issue at a hearing Wednesday concerning an Iowa case from 1977, reports USA Today. Prosecutors usually are shielded from civil rights lawsuits. A deputy U.S. solicitor general, arguing in support of the Iowa prosecutors, urged the justices to rule that prosecutors’ immunity for actions related to their trial work also covers any investigatory misconduct that led to charges in the first place.
The case concerns two Pottawattamie County, Iowa, prosecutors who allegedly obtained false testimony from a man who became the key witness against Curtis McGhee and Terry Harrington in the 1977 shotgun murder of an auto dealership security guard in Council Bluffs. They were sentenced to life in prison. Two decades later, it emerged that prosecutors Joseph Hrvol and David Richter had failed to turn over evidence about a leading suspect in the murder and allegedly coached the key witness in his tale against McGhee and Harrington. The case, which could affect prosecutors’ methods in cases nationwide, is being closely watched by defendants’ rights and civil liberties groups.