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IMBLER V. PACHTMAN, 424 U. S. 409 (1976)

U.S. Supreme Court

Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976)

Imbler v. Pachtman

No. 74-5435

Argued November 3, 1975

Decided March , 1976

424 U.S. 409


Petitioner, convicted of murder, unsuccessfully petitioned for state habeas corpus on the basis of respondent prosecuting attorney's revelation of newly discovered evidence, and charged that respondent had knowingly used false testimony and suppressed material evidence at petitioner's trial. Petitioner thereafter filed a federal habeas corpus petition based on the same allegations, and ultimately obtained his release. He then brought an action against respondent and others under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages for loss of liberty allegedly caused by unlawful prosecution, but the District Court held that respondent was immune from liability under § 1983, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: A state prosecuting attorney who, as here, acted within the scope of his duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution and in presenting the State's case, is absolutely immune from a civil suit for damages under § 1983 for alleged deprivations of the accused's constitutional rights. Pp. 424 U. S. 417-431.

(a) Section 1983 is to be read in harmony with general principles of tort immunities and defenses, rather than in derogation of them. Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U. S. 367. Pp. 424 U. S. 417-419.

(b) The same considerations of public policy that underlie the common law rule of absolute immunity of a prosecutor from a suit for malicious prosecution likewise dictate absolute immunity under § 1983. Although such immunity leaves the genuinely wronged criminal defendant without civil redress against a prosecutor whose malicious or dishonest action deprives him of liberty, the alternative of qualifying a prosecutor's immunity would disserve the broader public interest in that it would prevent the vigorous and fearless performance of the prosecutor's duty that is essential to the proper functioning of the criminal justice system and would often prejudice criminal defendants by skewing post-conviction judicial decisions that should be made with the sole purpose of insuring justice. Pp. 424 U. S. 420-428.

500 F.2d 1301, affirmed.

Page 424 U. S. 410

POWELL, J., deliered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER., C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 424 U. S. 432. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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