News 01.29.09

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Lawsuit by Freed California Man

Thomas Goldstein served 24 years in California prison before a federal appeals court ruling in 2004 found that he had been wrongfully convicted and led to his release. His 1979 murder conviction was based largely on testimony of a jailhouse snitch, who said he had not received anything for his testimony – a claim which was later revealed to be untrue.

After being freed, Goldstein sued former Los Angeles District Attorney John Van de Kamp, seeking to hold the prosecutor liable for not having procedures in place to track testimony from unreliable snitches. In 2008, Goldstein’s case went before the U.S. Supreme Court, which considered whether office policies created by Van de Kamp were protected by prosecutorial immunity. Individual prosecutors have absolute immunity from lawsuits seeking to hold them accountable for their trial-related “adversarial” conduct but not for “investigative” or “administrative” actions.

In a unanimous decision this week, the court found that Van de Kamp could not sue in this instance.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the opinion that immunity covered claims about a failure to train or supervise prosecutors or to set up an information system with material that calls into question the truthfulness of informants.

Breyer said allowing the lawsuit to go forward would permit criminal defendants to bring claims for other trial-related training or supervisory failings, affecting the way in which prosecutors carried out their basic courtroom tasks.



Read the full story here

. (Reuters, 01/26/09)

Before the case was argued, the Innocence Network filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court, arguing that Van de Kamp’s role in this case was administrative, not trial-related. The Supreme Court disagreed.


Download the Innocence Network amicus brief here

.

View other amicus briefs and read commentary on the decision at the

SCOTUS blog

.

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