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Law School Case Brief

Imbler v. Pachtman - 424 U.S. 409, 96 S. Ct. 984 (1976)

Rule:

In initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case, a prosecutor is immune from a civil suit for damages under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983.

Facts:

After obtaining his release from a state prison through federal habeas corpus proceedings, in which it was found that the prosecuting attorney in a California state court murder prosecution had knowingly used false testimony and suppressed evidence favorable to the defense, Paul Imbler instituted an action against the prosecuting attorney and certain police officers in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking to recover damages. Damages were sought under 42 USCS § 1983, which provided that any person who acted under color of state law to deprive another of a constitutional right shall be liable to the injured party in an action at law. Imbler alleged that a conspiracy among defendants to unlawfully charge and convict him had caused him loss of liberty and other injury, the gravamen of the complaint against the prosecuting attorney being that he had knowingly or negligently used false evidence and suppressed material evidence at the criminal trial. The district court dismissed the complaint as to the prosecuting attorney, holding that as a public prosecutor, he was immune from civil liability for acts committed as part of his official functions. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Issue:

Was the state prosecuting attorney immune from suit?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that a state prosecutor who acted within the scope of his duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution and in presenting the state's case was absolutely immune from a civil suit for damages for alleged deprivations of defendant's constitutional rights under 42 USCS § 1983. Furthermore, the Court averred that such absolute immunity from liability was applicable even where the prosecutor knowingly used perjured testimony, deliberately withheld exculpatory information, or failed to make full disclosure of all facts casting doubt upon the state's testimony.

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