Saturday, December 05, 2009

Do We Have the Right Not To Be Framed?

In 1977, 17- year old Terry Harrington (left), captain of his Omaha high school football team, was being recruited for a possible scholarship at Yale when he was arrested for the murder of a retired Iowa police captain, killed by a shotgun blast while working as a private security guard.

What followed next is an example of the kind of injustice most of us can only conceive of in our worst nightmare. Prosecutors Joseph Hrvol and David Richter, along with local police, went to work suppressing evidence that pointed at another suspect — Charles Gates, while manufacturing evidence against the two chief suspects, Terry Harrington and Curtis McGhee, Jr. The two men were convicted of the murder in separate trials, and each was sentenced to life without parole.

After the police records were uncovered in 2003, Harrington successfully petitioned the Iowa State Supreme Court to overturn their convictions. All of the witnesses against them recanted their perjured testimony. The Iowa Supreme Court set aside both convictions, citing exculpatory evidence pointing to another suspect that was withheld from defense counsel in both trials.

Their case (Pottawattamie County v. McGhee) turned on whether prosecutors, who knowingly fabricate evidence to convict an innocent person should be susceptible to lawsuits, or if prosecutors should always have absolute immunity from such suits, no matter how bad their behavior. Keep in mind that investigating police officers, less educated than prosecuting attorneys, don’t receive that kind of immunity. So, then, why should it be granted to prosecutors acting in the same capacity?

As citizens of the U.S. most of us assume we have the right to prove our innocence if we are wrongly convicted of a crime. We probably even assume that we will be compensated for the cost of being wrongly convicted. That is the cost of attorney fees, loss of employment, earnings and earnings potential, not to mention, the loss of time with our loved ones, etc. In other words, we assume that the preservation of justice is paramount in this country, and that the legal process works to ensure that the truth will set us free .

However, this is not the case. It could even be said, the odds are stacked against we, the average people, considering the absolute immunity of judges and prosecutors, and the monopolistic legal system currently in place. Prosecutors have the "right" to frame you with total immunity. The Supreme Court maintains that even prosecutors who knowingly hide or invent evidence in a case that results in the conviction of an innocent person cannot be sued for damages. As morally abhorrent as this is, it is legally sound, just as the following quote from Justice Antonin Scalia is morally abhorrent but legally sound:

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”
In Brady v. Maryland, judges said prosecutors have an absolute duty not only to not hide evidence, but to divulge evidence that could show innocence.

Teacher says Prosecutor ruined her. - "A former high school teacher who was exonerated of charges that she had sex with a student has sued her prosecutor, claiming Kenton County Attorney Rob Sanders indicted her though he knew the allegations were bogus. She claims Sanders "acted with malice" in pursuit of "publicity, attention and redemption in how he handled a prior student/adult sex case."

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