Statement of Gerald B. Lefcourt, President, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers On Supreme Court's Prosecutorial Immunity Decision
Washington, DC (December 10, 1997) -- In a victory for justice and common sense, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled today that a prosecutor who lied in order to obtain an arrest warrant may be sued for damages. Kalina v. Fletcher, No. 96-792, affirms lower court decisions holding that state officials enjoy only limited immunity from suits for violations of civil rights they commit during the course of performing their official duties.
The plaintiff in the suit, Rodney Fletcher, was arrested for burglary and spent a day in jail after Washington state deputy prosecuting attorney Lynne Kalina knowingly made false statements when she swore out a warrant for his arrest. Charges against Mr. Fletcher were dismissed the next day, and he sued Ms. Kalina in federal court for false imprisonment and violating his civil rights under color of state law.
"Demanding immunity for prosecutorial misconduct such as lying under oath is unbelievable gall," observed New York attorney Gerald B. Lefcourt, president of the 9,500 member National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "Her claim that holding her responsible for her alleged deceit would somehow 'chill' prosecutors from effectively doing their job is absurd. In a system of checks and balances, courts have to be able to rely on the proposition that sworn statements supporting arrest or search warrants are truthful and made in good faith. Simply put, the prosecutor tried to claim immunity for allegedly made up evidence against Mr. Fletcher, and no person should be able to lie under oath without consequences."