Commonwealth v. McfarlaneAnnotate this Case
In a case before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the defendant, Denzel McFarlane, convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm and other related charges, appealed for a new trial. He based his appeal on the fact that a police officer who had arrested and testified against him was found civilly liable for false arrest and false imprisonment in an unrelated lawsuit. McFarlane argued that the existence of the civil lawsuit against the officer was exculpatory information that the prosecution should have disclosed to the defense but failed to do so.
The primary legal issue was whether the existence of a pending civil lawsuit against a police officer must be disclosed by a prosecutor as exculpatory evidence. The court held that the existence of a pending civil lawsuit against a police officer does not need to be disclosed by a prosecutor as exculpatory evidence. The court reasoned that until a finding of liability has been made, a pending civil lawsuit constitutes an unsubstantiated allegation of police misconduct that does not tend to negate the guilt of the defendant. Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of McFarlane's motion for a new trial.
In addition, the court established that while a prosecutor has no duty to inquire into pending civil lawsuits against a prosecution team member, the duty of inquiry does require that prosecutors inquire about the existence of any findings of civil liability related to the performance of a police officer's duties. In other words, if a police officer has been found liable in a civil lawsuit, the prosecution has a duty to discover that information and potentially disclose it to the defense.