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Inmates of Attica Correctional Facility v. Rockefeller

    Brief Fact Summary. A civil suit was filed against New York State officials and the local U.S. Attorney by a mother of a deceased former inmate and several other inmates of the New York’s Attica Correctional Facility, after the inmate uprising at the prison in 1971.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Prosecutors cannot be compelled by the courts to investigate and initiate criminal prosecutions.

     

    Facts. 32 inmates died while several others were injured during the inmate’s uprising in 1971 at the New York State’s Attica Correction Facility. Officials of the New York State and the local U.S. Attorney were charged to court by the present and former inmates of the facility. Also, a mother of a deceased former inmate joined in filing the suit against the officials. The inmates alleged that the state officials committed various crimes in quelling the uprising and that the state officials were nonchalant in prosecuting those who committed the crimes.
    Also, they alleged that the U.S. Attorney also failed to investigate and prosecute the offenders. They therefore sought mandamus against the U.S. Attorney and the state defendants to compel investigations as remedies for the alleged injuries they sustained. This prayer of the plaintiffs was moved against by the defendants on the premise that they sought improper judicial relief. The motion to dismiss the prayers of the plaintiffs was granted by the trial court but the plaintiffs appealed

    Issue. can prosecutors be compelled by the courts to investigate and initiate criminal prosecutions?

    Held. (Mansfield, J.) No. Prosecutors cannot be compelled by the courts to investigate and initiate criminal prosecutions. Although federal mandamus lie only “to compel an officer or employee of the United States………to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff”, a prosecutor’s discretionary decision not to prosecute at the request of a private plaintiff have never been upturned by the federal courts. Also, statute that imposed a mandatory duty on the state officials to perform the desired prosecutions was not identified by the plaintiffs. The ruling of the trial court ruling was thereby sustained.

     

    Discussion. rosecutorial discretion is held in high esteem and as such, it is deeply enshrined in American law largely for separation-of-powers considerations. With reference to the defendants in this case, the defendants were not “officer(s) or employee(s) of the United State,” as stipulated in the federal mandamus. The court dismissal against the state defendants would have been proper on the premise that federal courts meddles in state’s officials’ performance of discretionary duties. This would have grossly violated the most basic principles of federalism.


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