News 03.29.11

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Compensation for Former Death Row Inmate

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court today overturned a jury verdict and lower-court rulings awarding $14 million to a former Louisiana death row inmate who had sued then-New Orleans DA Harry Connick Sr. after prosecutors neglected to turn over evidence that would have been helpful to his defense.

John Thompson was convicted of armed robbery in Louisiana in 1985 and served 14 years on Louisiana’s death row before he was set free.

Thompson alleged in a civil case that he had been wrongfully convicted as a result of a pattern of prosecutorial negligence and misconduct and a failure to properly train prosecutors of their constitutional obligations to criminal defendants. Prosecutors appealed the decision on the grounds of prosecutorial immunity, but the court majority said the mistakes in the case did not amount to ‘deliberate indifference,’ according to The Times-Picayune.

Of the 16 federal judges, eight held that the jury had already spoken after hearing the facts, while the dissenters said it is an outrageous burden to hold a district attorney’s office accountable for employees’ misdeeds.

The ruling, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, means that Thompson will not collect the money. 

In response to the ruling, the Innocence Network released a letter signed by 19 innocent people who were wrongfully convicted in part because of the bad acts of prosecutors demanding greater accountability for prosecutorial misconduct.  In the letter, the exonerees explain: 

In many of our wrongful conviction cases prosecutorial misconduct was found but later declared “harmless” by the courts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In our cases, each act had profoundly harmful effects on our lives. Together we represent hundreds of years in prison, separated from our wives, husbands, children, parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and other loved ones, who suffered their own shame and wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers and spent countless sleepless nights worrying about our well being. The misconduct contributed to nearly unbearable depression and unhappiness, loss of jobs and career opportunities, the derailing of educations and forever destroyed hopes and dreams. Each of us has worked long and hard to repair what has happened to us, but we will never regain the lives we had before we were wrongfully convicted at the hands of careless or deceitful prosecutors.


Read the full article

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Read the decision

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Read the Innocence Network press release on the decision

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Read the letter urging action to stem prosecutorial misconduct

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