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The Accountability Factor

Justice Clarence Thomas on Civil Rights and the Right to Sue Government Officials:

An innocent man wrongfully imprisoned and slated for execution is almost not news in this country. Mismanaged blood samples, paid informants and egregious mistakes are common factors that have led to years wasted behind bars, innocence lost.

In 1985, John Thompson was convicted of murder in Louisiana.He spent 18 years in prison, and just before his scheduled execution in 1999, a private investigator discovered that prosecutors had failed to turn over important evidence. Read the whole story here.

In 1963, in Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that would tend to prove a defendant’s innocence. Thompson sued the former Louisiana district attorney for Orleans Parish, Harry Connick Sr. for failing to train his prosecutors about this legal obligation. (Connick claimed that he misunderstood Brady and was unsure if his prosecutors had adequate Brady training.) Thompson was awarded $14 million (plus $1 million for court fees) for the civil rights violation.

But here’s where it gets interesting. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently threw out the verdict, claiming that the district attorney can’t be responsible for the single act of a solo prosecutor. Read his first majority opinion here.

Thomas’s opinion not only ignores a man’s near-death because of prosecutorial concealment, it removes district attorneys’ accountability for their subordinates leaving no one responsible for civil rights violations.

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