Terrific! Radiant! Humble! [An Update]

Law

Last year I wrote about the regrettable case of Junius Peake, a former economics professor at the University of Northern Colorado, who reacted to a student's rather silly parody of him by calling the cops.

What was appalling about the story was not just that Petty Professor Peake reacted to satire by involving the cops. What was truly appalling was that the cops bit, and Deputy District Attorney Susan Knox authorized a search warrant for the student author's home, on the theory that the overt satire was criminal libel.

This week FIRE has an update — the District Court has, in an order granting summary judgment against prosecutor Susan Knox, found that she is liable for violating the student satirist Thomas Mink's rights. More specifically, the court found that Knox was not entitled to qualified immunity because, in light of the patently satirical nature of Mink's site, no reasonable prosecutor could have believed that the warrant established probable cause that Mink had committed criminal libel. (Knox is only entitled to qualified immunity because approving search warrants is a discretionary function, not a core prosecutorial function.)

This is an important and admirable victory — all the more so because it is so appallingly rare for prosecutors to be held liable for misconduct. Prosecutors have a legal and ethical obligation to be more than a mere rubber-stamp for law enforcement demands — they have an obligation to see that the execution of justice does not violate the clearly established constitutional rights of suspects and defendants. Here Susan Knox willingly let the criminal justice system be the lawless tool of a censorious, thin-skinned, and ultimately ridiculous thug. This puts a black mark by her name — and should.

You can read the opinion through the FIRE link.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

7 Comments

5 Comments

  1. SPQR  •  Jun 7, 2011 @1:12 pm

    A well-deserved result.

  2. Victor Milan  •  Jun 7, 2011 @1:45 pm

    It is great news that official sanction might actually come down on prosecutorial misconduct.

    And … is "criminal libel" even a thing in this country? I thought that was a nastiness restricted to the UK.

  3. Will  •  Jun 7, 2011 @4:07 pm

    What are the likely sanctions for the prosecutor? Slap on the wrist? Or something more serious?

  4. Pete  •  Jun 8, 2011 @6:02 am

    And here I am fresh from Greenfield's Simple Justice blawg, having left a fresh and steaming comment essentially ranting about how prosecutors can behave badly regardless of whether the behaviour is a part of their official duties or not, and get away with it scot-free.

    I don't understand – I don't have the case reference, but I distinctly remember a prosecutor successfully claiming immunity in response to a lawsuit filed because that prosecutor framed the defendant with knowingly false evidence. That's not part of their job at all – discretionary or otherwise.

    This is all confusing to the average Joe.

  5. Texan99  •  Jun 12, 2011 @12:37 pm

    Criminal libel? I'm horrified to discover that there is such a thing.

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