A Chink in the Armor? The Prosecutorial Immunity Split in the Seventh Circuit in Light of Whitlock

For U.S. citizens whose constitutional rights have been violated by government officials, 42 U.S.C.§ 1983 provides a powerful form of punishment against the wrongdoer.Wrongful convictions due to prosecutorial misconduct, such as withholding Brady material or fabricating evidence, should theoretically allow victims of these erroneous convictions to sue the prosecuting attorney. Yet, the answer is not this simple because the Supreme Court’s prosecutorial immunity doctrine bars Section 1983 suits against prosecutors in certain instances. In 2012, the Seventh Circuit examined two prosecutorial immunity cases, but, somewhat perplexingly, arrived at two different answers. This Note examines the Seventh Circuit’s split on prosecutorial immunity and the reasoning behind each case’s result, after laying the backdrop to Section 1983, the immunity doctrine, and policy rationale for prosecutorial immunity in particular. Using economic principles, this Note argues that prosecutorial immunity doctrine should be re-formed to promote prosecutorial autonomy and criminal justice system efficiency, while more effectively deterring prosecutor misconduct. This Note seeks to balance the needs of the criminal justice system with a citizen’s right to a remedy by recommending broader discovery disclosure rules and criminal sanctions to prevent prosecutor misconduct. Finally, the Note examines the lack of available data and empirical studies on effective deterrence methods and provides suggestions for what future studies should examine.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.