Supreme Court Majority Rules DA is not Responsible for His Prosecutors’ Misdeeds

Thursday, April 07, 2011
John Thompson
After spending 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, John Thompson sued the district attorney in Louisiana whose office was responsible for concealing evidence from his defense that would have proved he was innocent all along. He won his civil case and received a $15 million judgment, which was upheld twice by a federal appellate court. But then the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case and, on a 5-4 vote, threw out Thompson’s victory, even though the DA had admitted his office broke the law.
Convicted in 1985, Thompson was weeks away from an execution scheduled for May 1999 when investigators working on his behalf discovered that prosecutors held back evidence that could have proven his innocence.
The evidence hidden from Thompson during his original trial included blood samples from the crime scene that did not belong to him, as well as the fact that the main informant against him had received a reward from the victim’s family.
Prior to Thompson’s lawsuit trial, prosecutors conceded they had violated the Brady rule, which requires DAs to reveal any evidence that could prove a defendant’s innocence.
But the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, ruled that what happened to Thompson amounted to an isolated incident and that it did not warrant punishing the DA (now retired), Harry F. Connick (father of the famed singer), for the actions of one of his prosecutors.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
Cruel but Not Unusual (by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate)
Clarence Thomas Decision (Cornell University Law School)


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