Supreme Court Reverses $14 Million Judgment in Wrongful Conviction Case

Here's just another example of the difference it makes who gets appointed to the Supreme Court. In 2009, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a $14 million judgment for former death row inmate John Thompson against the New Orleans District Attorney's office for prosecutorial misconduct. The opinion was written by Judge Edward Prado.

Back in 2005, TalkLeft strongly endorsed Judge Prado for the Supreme Court. Instead, we got Justice Alito and then Chief Justice Roberts.

Today, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion with the conservative justices carrying the day, reversed the award. Justice Ginsburg's dissent is longer than the majority opinion. The opinions are here. Had Judge Prado or another judge with non-conservative views on criminal justice been appointed instead, the opinion would likely have gone the other way.

Judge Prado was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1984. Prior to that he had been both a prosecutor and a public defender and a state court judge. In 2003, then President Bush nominated him to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he was confirmed by a vote of 97 to 0.

In today's decision, Justice Ginsberg was joined in her dissent by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Ginsburg wrote: [More...]

Ample evidence presented at the civil rights trial demonstrated that [DA] Connick's deliberately indifferent attitude created a tinderbox in which Brady violations were nigh inevitable."

Justice Ginsburg on the facts:

In Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83, 87 (1963), this Court held that due process requires the prosecution to turn over evidence favorable to the accused and material to his guilt or punishment. That obligation, the parties have stipulated, was dishonored in this case; consequently, John Thompson spent 18 years in prison, 14 of them isolated on death row, before the truth came to light: He was innocent of the charge of attempted armed robbery, and his subsequent trial on a murder charge, by prosecutorial design, was fundamentally unfair.

But for a chance discovery made by a defense team investigator weeks before Thompson’s scheduled execution, the evidence that led to his exoneration might have remained under wraps. The prosecutorial concealment Thompson encountered, however, is bound to be repeated unless municipal agencies bear responsibility—made tangible by §1983 liability—for adequately conveying what Brady requires and for monitoring staff compliance.

This was no isolated incident:

What happened here, the Court’s opinion obscures, was no momentary oversight, no single incident of a lone officer’s misconduct. Instead, the evidence demonstrated that misperception and disregard of Brady’s disclosure requirements were pervasive in Orleans Parish. That evidence, I would hold, established persistent, deliberately indifferent conduct for which the District Attorney’s Office bears responsibility under §1983.

The jury found for Mr. Thompson:

Having weighed all the evidence, the jury in the §1983 case found for Thompson, concluding that the District Attorney’s Office had been deliberately indifferent to Thompson’s Brady rights and to the need for training and supervision to safeguard those rights.

Four justices, like Judge Prado and a majority of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, got it right. But with one conservative too many on the Supreme Court, the wrongheaded view pervailed.

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  • Display: Sort:
    A bad result (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by andgarden on Tue Mar 29, 2011 at 09:12:39 PM EST
    I think it's fair to pause on the point that from Sotomayor and Kagan we apparently got pretty much exactly what we expected.

    Would have been interested in Justice (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Tue Mar 29, 2011 at 10:31:49 PM EST
    Kennedy's "read," other than signing the majority opinion.  

    Would also be interested to know (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Tue Mar 29, 2011 at 10:35:21 PM EST
    if the prosecutors, who were originally named defendants in the civil lawsuit, reached a settlement pre-trial or if plaintiff dismissed then outright pre-trial. Pretty dumb decision if the latter.  

    pervasive? (none / 0) (#4)
    by diogenes on Tue Mar 29, 2011 at 10:41:10 PM EST
    What percentage of the convictions of cases in Orleans Parish have been reversed due to disregard of Brady disclosure requirements?
    I suspect that people are rightfully outraged at Louisana's lifetime cap of $150000 (as opposed to a per year cap) for wrongful detention and are trying to compensate this fellow in any way possible.  

    Plaintiff apparently elected to try the case (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Tue Mar 29, 2011 at 11:02:24 PM EST
    on one-time event failure to train theory.

    Please god (none / 0) (#7)
    by Socraticsilence on Wed Mar 30, 2011 at 08:26:23 PM EST
    tell me that at the very least is supposed to be 1.5 million- that's still small change considering what Thompson and could have lost.  A better question is how exactly he could ended up on Death Row to begin with (even if guilty) the aggravating factor was a Car-jacking Thompson was convicted of that occured weeks after the intial crime.

    compensation formulas and bar associations (5.00 / 0) (#11)
    by diogenes on Thu Mar 31, 2011 at 07:17:20 PM EST
    It's all in the formula.  There's nothing that keeps Congress from awarding all wrongfully convicted and subsequently released inmates one million a year; presumably many Democratic states have already enacted such a reasonable level of compensation.
    If bar associations regularly disbarred attorneys (prosecutors and defense) who destroyed/hid evidence, perhaps it would happen less often.

    You assume the appeals process (none / 0) (#9)
    by Rojas on Thu Mar 31, 2011 at 07:55:20 AM EST
    is an effective auditing mechanism.

    Law Suits Does Not Equal Behavior Modification (none / 0) (#6)
    by ScottW714 on Wed Mar 30, 2011 at 11:42:18 AM EST
    The prosecutorial concealment Thompson encountered, however, is bound to be repeated unless municipal agencies bear responsibility - Justice Ginsburg

    Not persuasive, municipalities get sued routinely and they continue their behavior.  If we started including a fraction of their own personal salaries, it would change things, but when it's our money, the drum beats on.

    Sheriff Joe comes to mind as the prime example of behavior remaining the same even after his jurisdiction has bore a lot of fiscal responsibility.

    "Draft Prado movement" (none / 0) (#10)
    by diogenes on Thu Mar 31, 2011 at 07:11:47 PM EST
    If Prado is such a great judge then I am sure everyone here would agree to push Obama to appoint him to fill the NEXT Supreme Court vacancy.

    upholding the Constitution vs. judicial activism (none / 0) (#12)
    by knightoneday on Sun Apr 03, 2011 at 07:29:36 PM EST
    I don't think we get to see what's actually going on. Quite frankly, I think the Supreme Court is just a charade.

    In this particular case, it appears that the Conservatives OPPOSED the Constitution. But on other issues, I've seen the Liberals do so.

    I'm not into a "right"/ "left' thing. I'm into JUSTICE-FOR-ALL.

    What Ginsburg stated was how I believe the Constitution should have been upheld.

    This went beyond mere "error." But was outright ABUSE OF POWER. And the victim of it should have been recompensed.

    If someone had offered me $14 million to sacrifice 18 of the prime years of my life, I'd have told them, "Keep the money. Just let me live my life a free man."

    this makes no sense (none / 0) (#13)
    by knightoneday on Sun Apr 03, 2011 at 07:37:13 PM EST
    The so-called "justice system" seems to be out-of-whack. Here a man wrongfully held 18 years, 14 on Death Row, is denied just compensation.

    Yet here is a woman awarded the same amount [$14 million] for mere inconvenience by Wal-Marts:
    http://dallas.injuryboard.com/miscellaneous/a-wal-mart-employee-wins-a-false-imprisonment-lawsuit.as px?googleid=202142

    What is going on? Talk about INCONSISTENCIES in our courts! And this case WASN'T overturned.