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Supreme Court hears asylum, prosecutorial immunity cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Wednesday in two cases. In Negusie v. Mukasey [oral arguments transcript, PDF; merit briefs], the Court will consider whether the so-called "persecutor bar" in the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) [text], which prohibits the Attorney General or Secretary of Homeland Security from granting asylum or stay of deportation to any person who "ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution" of any person on account of "race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion," applies to a person who committed such an act due to "credible threats of death or serious bodily harm." The case concerns Daniel Girmai Negusie, a citizen of Eritrea [JURIST news archive], who was forcibly conscripted into the Eritrean army during its ongoing war with Ethiopia [JURIST news archive], imprisoned, and forced to work as an armed prison guard at a facility where inmates were tortured and mistreated. He eventually escaped and made his way to the US, where he applied for asylum. An immigration judge denied his asylum application on the grounds that his service as a prison guard made him ineligible for asylum protection under the INA. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) [official website] dismissed Negusie's appeal. At oral arguments, Negusie's attorneys said the BIA improperly dismissed the case due to ambiguity in the INA, and that the persecutor bar should not apply to involuntary conduct that is the product of credible threats of serious bodily harm.

The Court also heard oral arguments in Van De Kamp v. Goldstein [oral arguments transcript, PDF; merit briefs], in which the Court will consider whether two Los Angeles County supervising prosecutors have absolute immunity from suit for failing to establish a system that would have instructed a prosecutor to disclose at trial that a jailhouse witness received a lighter sentence in exchange for perjured testimony that wrongly convicted a suspect of murder. Thomas Goldstein, the respondent in the case, was convicted in 1980 of murder on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who committed perjury when he testified that he had not received any benefit for obtaining a confession from Goldstein. Goldstein spent 24 years in prison and was released in 2004 after he filed a federal habeas corpus suit, which was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [official website]. The Court must determine whether the supervising prosecutors' alleged failure to train, supervise, or set a policy that would instruct other prosecutors to openly disclose information regarding the treatment of jailhouse informants was a prosecutorial decision protected by absolute immunity, or an administrative decision, subject only to qualified immunity.

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