Can Prosecutors be sued by People They Framed?

There are concerns in Nina Totenberg’s article “Can Prosecutors Be Sued by Those They Framed?” published in 2009 about how lawyers who take an oath of office get away with setting up defendants around the world. This prompted me to draw parallels between it and a number of recent news stories. There have been a number of egregious shootings of young African-American men. We see police racial profiling young African-Americans in these metropolitan cities on a regular basis. Just as was evident in the 2009 article, we still see today that race, racial profiling, and incarceration practices have a negative impact on American society.

In this article, David Richer was the chief prosecutor of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and needed a win in the upcoming election to stay the county prosecutor. Richer had found the perfect suspects, Harrington and McGhee, to place blame for the murder of a retired police officer. Charles Gates, the real murderer, was the brother-in-law of the Council Bluffs Fire Department Captain. At the time, Gates was identified at the scene of the crime with the weapon that murdered the victim. Richer and the police abandoned their interest in him in favor of Harrington and McGhee, who were not even offered a polygraph.

Richer and the police found Kevin Hughes, the prime witness, a 16-year-old who had a criminal record himself and identified two other people at first. Hughes changed up his story until it collaborated with Richer’s story, to get the verdict. He knew that Hughes did not have his facts together to make the case, but was strong enough to win the conviction on Harrington and McGhee. Hughes changed his story to connect Harrington and McGhee to the incident. Hughes’ weak testimony was enough to frame Harrington and McGhee who were convicted of murder and convicted in front of an all-white jury. Harrington and McGhee lost 25 years of their lives in prison. While incarcerated, Harrington made friends with the prison barber, who lobbied to see the police reports in his incident. Whit the help of his friend, Harrington found valuable information out about how prosecutors withheld evidence that framed him and McGhee. This did not stop Harrington for getting his incident reviewed and looked at. He studied his case and sought legal assistance and made a petition to the Iowa Supreme Court to get it overturned. This helped Harrington and McGhee get out of prison. They concluded that the prime eyewitness, Kevin Hughes, was a perjurer. That made the rest of the witnesses recants their statements. McGhee was given a plea deal in exchange for the time they took from them, but Harrington did not accept the deal, so Council Bluffs dropped the case. Harrington continued with his and McGhee’s case and sued the prosecutors and the police under the federal civil rights law for violation of their constitutional rights. (“NCJRS Abstract – National Criminal Justice Reference Service”)

This happened in the year 1977, at the time when racism was still prevalent, and it was hard for African-Americans to get a fair shot to go their way in the justice system. Our textbook defines racism as “unjust use of racial or ethnic categories to classify individuals and distribute social benefits and harms” (MacKinnon and Fiala pg. 294). In this case, we have two black young men that were unjust and classify as murders wrongfully accused in the court system. This was not right and they will never to get that time back. I would sue them myself if I was framed too! Here are some statistics on race in the criminal justice system quoted from the textbook (pg.297). Blacks and Hispanic males are imprisoned at a higher rated the white males. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports: “About 0.5 percent of all white males, more than 3.0 of all black males, and 1.2 percent of all Hispanic males were imprisoned in 2011. Between 6.6 percent and 7.5 percent of all black males ages 25 to 39 were imprisoned in 2011. Among people of ages 20 to 24, blacks’ males were imprisoned at about 7 times the rate of white males. As I see that these statistics are alarming, and I do not see them changing until they adjust the police racial profiling policies.

To me, it comes down to the problem of racial profiling which is based on the premise that most drug offenses are committed by minorities, and this premise creates a profile that results in more traffic stops of minority drivers. Because racial profiling is discriminatory, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes a multifaceted effort is required to address the problem. State ACLU affiliates and other civil rights advocates have brought lawsuits based on a showing of discrimination by law enforcement agencies, but legal action is only a beginning. Legislation at Federal and State levels and local voluntary efforts can advance the momentum to collect accurate data on the problem and control overzealous and sometimes illegal law enforcement practices. The pervasiveness of racial profiling by the police in drug law enforcement is the result of an escalation in the war on drugs. Drug use and drug selling are not confined to racial and ethnic minorities; in fact, five times as many whites use drugs. The war on drugs, however, has targeted people of color and skin color has now become a proxy for criminality. Consequences of racial profiling in law enforcement are evident in the demographics of the prison population. For example, blacks constitute 13 percent of drug users in the United States, 37 percent of those arrested on drug charges, 55 percent of those convicted, and 74 percent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison. Media coverage of racial profiling is also prominent, as indicated in numerous cited examples. Further, statistical evidence collected in the course of ACLU lawsuits shows a clear pattern of racially discriminatory traffic stops and searches. Personal and social costs of racial profiling are considered, as well as ways of preventing the problem. (“NCJRS Abstract – National Criminal Justice Reference Service”)

Today people of color continue to be disproportionately incarcerated, policed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Further, racial disparities in the criminal-justice system threaten communities of color—disenfranchising thousands by limiting voting rights and denying equal access to employment, housing, public benefits, and education to millions more. In light of these disparities, it is imperative that criminal justice reform evolves as the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Below we outline the top 10 facts pertaining to the criminal justice system’s impact on communities of color. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. The prison population grew by 700 percent from 1970 to 2005, a rate that is outpacing crime and population rates. The incarceration rates disproportionately impact men of color: 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men. (“NCJRS Abstract – National Criminal Justice Reference Service”)

Students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, leading to a high number of youths of color incarcerated. Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement. Currently, African Americans make up two-fifths and Hispanics one-fifth of confined youth today. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Individuals of color have a disproportionate number of encounters with law enforcement, indicating that racial profiling continues to be a problem. A report by the Department of Justice found that blacks and Hispanics were approximately three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop than white motorists. African Americans were twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police.

Once convicted, black offenders receive longer sentences compared to white offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission stated that in the federal system black offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes. The Sentencing Project reports that African Americans are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants and are 20 percent more like to be sentenced to prison. Theses racial disparities have deprived people of color of their most basic civil rights, making criminal-justice reform the civil rights issue of our time. Through mass imprisonment and the overrepresentation of individuals of color within the criminal justice and prison system, people of color have experienced an adverse impact on themselves and on their communities from barriers to reintegrating into society to engaging in the democratic process. Eliminating the racial disparities inherent to our nation’s criminal-justice policies and practices must be at the heart of a renewed, refocused, and reenergized movement for racial justice in America. (“NCJRS Abstract – National Criminal Justice Reference Service”)

In conclusion, I can see both sides of this dilemma. Although Richer purposely withheld evidence, had them convicted, put in jail for life, and knowing that he will be granted immunity for being a prosecutor. In this situation, makes me feel that the system is still needing a lot of work done to it, and will not be getting a fix anytime soon.

Works cited

“NCJRS Abstract – National Criminal Justice Reference Service”. Ncjrs.Gov, 2017,

Harris, David. “PUBLICATIONS.” NCJRS Abstract – National Criminal Justice

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