Should State Agents Be Held Accountable Only to the State?

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by William L. Anderson: False
Convictions: Another Sorry Legacy of’Progressivism’



Last month
the U.S. Supreme Court in Connick
v. Thompson
dismissed a $14 million judgment against the
former district attorney of New Orleans although prosecutors had
withheld exculpatory evidence in the wrongful murder and robbery
conviction of John Thompson. Thompson spent 14 years in prison,
mostly on death row, before being acquitted in a second trial.

In an eloquent
op-ed in the New York Times
Thompson wrote of the hellish
experience with a legal system that protects its own. He, however,
received a "miracle":

The same
day that my lawyers visited, an investigator they had hired to
look through the evidence one last time found, on some forgotten
microfiche, a report sent to the prosecutors on the blood type
of the perpetrator of the armed robbery. It didn't match mine;
the report, hidden for 15 years, had never been turned over to
my lawyers. The investigator later found the names of witnesses
and police reports from the murder case that hadn't been turned
over either.

This led to
his exoneration, but the worst players here are unpunished. The
courts have ruled time and again that state and federal prosecutors
have "total immunity" from lawsuits if misconduct occurred
while doing their "official" duties. While the court's
logic here was not simply based upon the "immunity rulings,"
nonetheless this case still exists precisely because the authorities
have been protecting their own.

Even if a prosecutor
knowingly gets a wrongful conviction, the victim of the perfidy
cannot sue. However, the courts claim that immunity does not mean
dishonest prosecutors will be unpunished. After all, the state can
bring criminal charges against them, and they can be disciplined
by their state bars, and even be disbarred.

This argument
is based on a view of the state that is the product of Progressivism,
not reality, for it sees state agents as eager to bring discipline
themselves, all in the name of nonexistent "good government."
At the same time Supreme Court justices shut the door to any direct
citizen action against government employees who deliberately harm
others. Depend on the state to "discipline" the state,
they say. Such "discipline," however, rarely happens.

I am familiar
with the argument on the other side: If people can sue prosecutors,
there will be a blizzard of lawsuits against these "public
servants" and no one will dare prosecute anyone. The prosecutor
will not "be free to do his or her job," as I have heard
so many prosecutorial advocates tell me.

I believe that
"doing their job" is a red herring. Last year, I covered
the trial via blog in North Georgia (where I used to live) of Tonya
, who was falsely accused of child molestation and ultimately
acquitted. The prosecutors lied and engaged in other massive misconduct,
but at least the jurors saw through their actions.

When I spoke
to a representative of the Georgia State Bar, she flippantly reminded
me that Craft was acquitted and that the prosecutors were just "doing
their jobs." I replied that Craft was forced to spend a million
dollars in her defense and that the bar's definition of "their
jobs" includes lying and subornation of perjury. She hung up
the telephone.

conversation spoke volumes to me. These prosecutors had openly violated
their own state's rules of conduct, yet the very person who would
recommend they be disciplined was cavalier about what they had done.

For all of
the talk of "democracy" and "self-government"
from the American political classes, what we have today is self-perpetuating
"Progressive" government. We are supposed to assume we
are governed by Wise People Who Know What Is Best For Us. Instead,
we are governed by people who face few standards of accountability,
and while they repeat the line that they can "police themselves,"
we also know that is untrue.

In its Connick
ruling, the Supreme Court simply affirmed the "Progressive"
canards that those "professionals" who govern us also
can be trusted to govern themselves. That is a lie as bad as any
lie that DA Harry Connick Sr.'s underlings told the jurors when
they wrongfully convicted John Thompson of murder and sentenced
him to execution.

2, 2011

L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him
], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland,
and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig
von Mises Institute
. He
also is a consultant with American Economic Services. Visit
his blog.

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