Pottawattamie County v. McGhee
What's at Stake
Whether a prosecutor is entitled to absolute immunity from damages for fabricating evidence during a criminal investigation when the same prosecutor later uses that evidence at trial to convict.
The Supreme Court has held that a prosecutor’s immunity from damages depends on the function he is performing. Absolute immunity attaches to prosecutorial decisions; on the other hand, prosecutors are only entitled to qualified immunity when they are acting in an investigatory capacity. In this case, prosecutors fabricated evidence when investigating a murder, and later used that evidence to convict two teenagers who were ultimately released when their convictions were overturned 25 years later. The prosecutors were then sued for damages. In response, they argue that the fabrication of evidence is only unconstitutional when it used at trial and the use of fabricated evidence at trial is protected by absolute immunity. The Eighth Circuit rejected both arguments. The ACLU amicus brief argues that damages are necessary to deter egregious prosecutorial misconduct because it is so rarely subject to professional discipline.