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Supreme Court Says Exonerated Inmates Cannot Sue District Attorneys

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Rut...

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The Supreme Court this week ruled in a 5-4 decision that a former death row inmate could not sue the District Attorney’s office after a prosecutor hid blood tests that would have earlier proven his innocence.

The former inmate, John Thompson, came within weeks of execution after spending 18 years behind bars. He was finally set free after the new evidence came to light. He filed a civil rights lawsuit, and a jury awarded him $14 million in damages.

A 1963 Supreme Court ruling, Brady v. Maryland, said prosecutors have a duty to turn over exculpatory evidence. However, in a subsequent ruling, the Court said that individual prosecutors cannot be sued for constitutional violations in the courtroom. This decision further limits when defendants can sue for Brady violations.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave a rare oral dissent in which she strongly criticized the majority’s conclusions. Joining Justice Ginsburg’s dissent were Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

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