Supreme Court justices appear ready to give the green light to efforts by a New Orleans man to win $14 million for prosecutorial misconduct that put him behind bars for more than two decades for a murder he did not commit, reports the National Law Journal. The Court heard arguments yesterday in a case in which former New Orleans district attorney Harry Connick argues that his office should not be held liable for what he contends was a single incident of failing to hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense before trial.
Louisiana appellate chief Stuart Duncan acknowledged that John Thompson has suffered “terrible injuries” because of the actions of a lawyer in the prosecutor’s office, but insisted that Supreme Court precedent does not allow him to recover damages in a civil rights suit when no pattern of misconduct has been shown. Several justices argued that at least four assistant prosecutors were aware that key blood evidence had been withheld, in violation of Brady vs. Maryland, the 1963 decision that requires prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence to criminal defendants. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and other justices underlined the importance of Brady violations because, unlike disputes over Miranda warnings or other constitutional safeguards, failure to turn over evidence usually goes undiscovered. “Shouldn’t there be extra vigilance when we are talking about a Brady claim?”