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Supreme Court hears arguments in prosecutorial immunity, capital cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Wednesday in two cases. In Pottawattamie County v. McGhee [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on whether a prosecutor may be subjected to a civil trial and potential damages for a wrongful conviction and incarceration where the prosecutor allegedly (1) violated a criminal defendant's "substantive due process" rights by procuring false testimony during the criminal investigation, and then (2) introduced that same testimony against the criminal defendant at trial. The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that prosecutors were not protected from suit by absolute immunity. Counsel for the petitioners argued:

If a prosecutor's absolute immunity in judicial proceedings means anything, it means that a prosecutor may not be sued because a trial has ended in a conviction, Yet that is exactly what happened in this case.

The US government argued on behalf of petitioners as amicus curiae. Counsel for the respondents argued that the Court had already ruled against immunity on exactly the same issue in a previous case.

In Wood v. Allen [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether the state court erred in concluding that during the sentencing phase of a capital case the defense attorney's failure to present the defendant's impaired mental functioning did not constitute ineffective counsel and whether the circuit court erred in its application of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) [text, PDF] to the review of the state court decision. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed [opinion, PDF] a district court decision that had granted the defendant Holly Wood's habeas petition. Counsel for the petitioner Wood argued, "that there was no strategic decision here, that in fact it was a failure to investigate in violation of this Court." Counsel for the respondents argued that the AEDPA was applied correctly.

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