Saturday, April 2, 2011

Another comment on Connick v Thompson

Lisa McElroy of the SCOTUS blog writes: "Connick v. Thompson was the classic case in which the Justices were sharply divided on ideological lines: Justice Thomas wrote an opinion for the majority that was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Alito; meanwhile, Justice Ginsburg felt so strongly about her dissent (which was joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) that she read it from the bench, an action that a Justice will rarely take unless she is well and truly peeved by the majority’s decision. Indeed, the facts of Connick are pretty upsetting and powerful: Thompson did not testify in his own defense at his murder trial because he was afraid that the prosecution would bring up an earlier conviction for armed robbery to try to make him look less believable. He was convicted of the murder, sentenced to death, and served seventeen years in prison, where he came very close to being executed. The catch? Prosecutors never told Thompson’s lawyers that they had blood evidence that would have exonerated him from guilt in the armed robbery case. Had he not been convicted of armed robbery, he could have testified in his own defense in the murder case and possibly been found not guilty; in fact, after the blood evidence came to light, he was acquitted of the murder in a new trial. So it is no surprise that Thompson and the dissenting Justices were upset with the majority’s holding in Connick. Although the prosecutors should have given Thompson the blood evidence, the Court held, when misconduct by prosecutors leads to a wrongful conviction, the district attorney who supervises the prosecutors can only be held liable for his employee’s actions if he was aware of a pattern of similar bad behavior in the office but still did not start a training program for prosecutors. But the dissenters disagreed emphatically, pointing to the fact that several prosecutors acted together to withhold the blood evidence from Thompson’s lawyers. Connick should have been able to see that his office’s failure to train prosecutors could have led to this kind of failure to follow the law, the dissenters contended, and Thompson should be allowed to recover damages for the harm he suffered – including many years on death row and several near executions."

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