The Supreme Court has unanimously overruled the Ninth Circuit in the case of Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, and broadened absolute prosecutorial immunity to include district attorneys whose poor supervision of subordinates may result in wrongful convictions. I wrote about the case last April:
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Thomas Goldstein, an ex-marine who was convicted of murdering his neighbor.
Goldstein served 24 years before his conviction was thrown out when the main witness against him was shown to have lied. That witness was a lifelong criminal who was given a deal on his own charges in exchange for testimony that Goldstein confessed to him in a jail cell. Goldstein alleges that the district attorney’s office that prosecuted the case routinely used the testimony of so-called “jailhouse snitches” prosecutors knew or should have known weren’t reliable.
Goldstein’s case is unusual because he’s not suing the prosecutor who convicted him, but John Van de Camp, the district attorney who supervised that prosecutor. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has allowed Goldstein’s case to go forward, causing the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to hear it.
This isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s too bad. All the incentives for prosecutors right now point toward winning convictions. There’s very little to hold them accountable when they go too far.
Currently, even if a prosecutor knowingly withholds exculpatory evidence in a case that results in a wrongful conviction, he can’t be sued.