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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Avoiding Injustice Via Selective Focus?

I wrote this back in October:

Justice Brennan once told a reporter "to tell them stories" to explain to students and others the real life realities of the cases he covered. This article is a window behind what (via a link in the article) this case is "technically" about:
Issue: (1) Does imposing liability for failing to train a prosecutor on a district attorney’s office for a single Brady violation contravene rigorous culpability and causation standards? (2) Does imposing failure-to-train liability on a district attorney’s office for a single Brady violation undermine prosecutors’ absolute immunity?

Plain English Issue: Can a prosecutor’s office be held liable for the illegal conduct of one of its prosecutors, on the theory that the office failed to adequately train its employees, when there has been only one violation resulting from that deficient training?
You can see how you can have five votes here to hold that well it's only one violation and all, we need to give discretion to the prosecutors and some unfortunate incidents should not lead up many miles away to interfere with the running of a prosecutors office. What is this business about micromanaging how they train people? The underlining facts can argued away, the focus on a narrow legal issue, which is how many death penalty cases are disposed of as well.

It is telling to me the the conservative fifth circuit held for the prisoner here, even when given a second look as the full panel examined the question. Also, back in the day of yore, civil lawsuits, trusting local juries to weigh the facts and situation, was a common way to keep overreaching governmental officials in check. They would look at the whole picture, not a narrow legal question, the purpose of which is to keep them from doing their jobs.

And, so they did. 5-4, the Supreme Court today held that sure the prosecutors erred ["failed to carry out that responsibility"] but real fiscal relief obtain via a jury trial (see the article for why the DA Office as a whole had to be targeted) for someone (per the dissent) who "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" could not be accepted. The necessary illicit policy wasn't found. Unless you accept the dissent.

Maybe, I'm wrong, but in close cases of this type I tend to think holding for the defendant is the best policy. Bad policy can easily be accepted since we see but "one bad apple." Justice Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, underlining her passion on the issue. Meanwhile, the end of the line for Troy Davis?