Federal appeals case considers prosecutor’s "absolute immunity" claim

A case currently underway in New York City features a federal criminal appeals matter that at its core posits two starkly conflicting viewpoints regarding prosecutorial discretion that often play out in federal proceedings across the country, including in Georgia.

Those competing opinions can be gleaned immediately from comments made by the petitioner and respondent, respectively, as follows:

Petitioner — “We don’t see how anyone could conclude that a prosecutor should be above the law.”

Respondent – “Mr. Connelly is entitled to immunity as a prosecutor from the claims.”

Mr. Connelly is a former Connecticut state prosecutor being accused by Robert Lawlor, a retired Hartford policeman, of malicious prosecution in a 2009 case in which Lawlor faced manslaughter and assault charges. Lawlor contends that Connelly withheld information highly favorable to Lawlor from the grand jury. Notwithstanding that omission, Lawlor was acquitted in a jury trial.

A lower federal court initially dismissed Lawlor’s claim, ruling that Connelly was effectively shielded from liability by the absolute immunity accorded him as a prosecutor under established American legal doctrine.

Understandably, that holding didn’t sit well with Lawlor’s legal counsel, who noted in its aftermath that Connelly “misled a grand jury and thereby lost his immunity.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will now consider whether Connelly is immune from prosecution or, rather, engaged in an abuse of prosecutorial discretion that should eliminate his protection from legal challenge.

The matter is sometimes sticky for courts. A reasonable person might certainly conclude, though, that when a government attorney prosecuting a criminal case knowingly withholds evidence that supports an accused person’s innocence, a grant of absolute immunity undermines notions of impartiality and justice.

Source: Hartford Courant, “Appeals court to hear case of acquitted Hartford cop,” May 29, 2012