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Civil Liability and Police-Prosecutor Relations

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 62 Issue: 2 Dated: (February 1993) Pages: 28-32
W U McCormack
Date Published
5 pages
Several recent court cases have delineated the immunities of prosecutors and law enforcement officials from civil lawsuits alleging constitutional violations.
The Supreme Court has tried to balance the needs of law enforcement personnel and criminal suspects by developing two types of immunity -- absolute and qualified -- for law enforcement officials who are sued for alleged constitutional violations. In its Burns v. Reed ruling, the Court held that prosecutors who advise police in the course of an ongoing investigation are entitled only to qualified immunity from a subsequent civil lawsuit. The Burns Court denied absolute immunity to prosecutors specifically because of the broad protection afforded by the qualified immunity defense. In recent years, the Supreme Court has narrowly interpreted the types of governmental activity that can give rise to a lawsuit based on a constitutional violation. However, while the courts have established clear rules in many areas of criminal procedure and constitutionally based employment rights, many areas remain unclear. The author concludes that prosecutors should not be overly cautious in providing responsible assistance to police because of a fear of personal liability arising out of constitutional violations. 29 references