criminal law, court-appointed, absolute immunity


E. George Minns, a Virginia state prisoner, brought an action against his court-appointed attorney, alleging that his attorney, while acting under color of state law, had deprived him of rights guaranteed under the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution. Specifically, Minns alleged that his court-appointed attorney denied him assistance in filing a petition for habeas corpus. Minns brought the suit under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, which gives a private right of action against every person who, under color of law, deprives another person of his or her Constitutional rights, privileges, or immunities. The district court dismissed the complaint and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that the attorney enjoyed absolute immunity from a section 1983 suit by virtue of his position as a court-appointed attorney. The Fourth Circuit determined that the following policy reasons required providing court-appointed attorney's with absolute immunity from section 1983 suits: (1) fear of liability under section 1983 might deter able attorneys from representing indigents; and (2) attorneys must be permitted to exercise professional discretion in planning their clients' defenses. This case note analyzes the Minns decision by examining the United States Supreme Court's decisions regarding immunity and section 1983, and concludes that, although the policy reasons behind the granting of absolute immunity to court-appointed attorneys are sound, it suggests that courts should be vigilant in guarding against improper conduct by those very same attorneys.

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