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Suing for Prosecutorial Misconduct
By Joel B. Rudin
More than 33 years ago in Imbler v. Pachtman,1 the Supreme Court laid to rest any meaningful possibility that wrongfully convicted criminal defendants might obtain money damages for prosecutorial misconduct — or so it appeared. Relying on policy concerns as well as common law tradition, the Court held that prosecutors, no matter how egregious their misdeeds, have absolute immunity from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, even though such immunity would “leave the genuinely wronged defendant without civil redress. …”2
Since Imbler, however, resourceful civil rights attorneys have found it possible to obtain significant money damages for clients who were convicted due to misconduct by prosecutors. In cases brought against municipalities for Brady violations perpetrated by line prosecutors, a New Orleans plaintiff won $14 million in damages in 2007 following a federal jury trial, while New York City has paid out five settlements exceeding $2 million each, including four in the last six years.3 I
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