Grand Jury/ Absolute Immunity/ Common Law

There was a case recently decided by the Supreme Court of the United States which held that grand jury witnesses, just like trial witnesses, were entitled to absolute immunity from any legal liability stemming from their testimony under Section 1983.

Although the Supreme Court held that it is forbidden to simply create an immunity for policy reasons, and it is only allowed to recognize immunities that existed in the common law when Section 1983 was first enacted (in 1871!), the Court admitted that it had occasionally recognized absolute immunity in past cases where there may have not been immunity dealing with common law and, had at times, taken a rather inconsistent approach to ruling on absolute immunity.

The Supreme Court now ruled that since the certainty is that contemporary criminal actions are considerably unlike its common law equivalents were, the Court needs to look at the nature of the function that was protected by the common law, not the identity of the witness who may have performed that function.

During common law times, while a complaining witness was not immune from civil liabilities stemming from his or her testimony, these witnesses used to be the main complaining parties of the case. They would initiate the prosecution and would not necessarily even testify at trial. During modern times, however, cases are usually brought by a prosecutor and therefore, witnesses that testify in front of a grand jury are not really the complaining witnesses the way they were in the past.

The Supreme Court held that absolute immunity for grand jury testimony is needed in order to protect the essential part that grand juries took part in up-to-date criminal process. Witnesses testifying before a grand jury need to be assured that they can be honest on the stand without some anxiety of any reciprocal law suit. The Court felt that the fact that they can be charged with the crime of perjury, for lying on the stand should be enough of a deterrent against providing false testimony.

For a free first consultation relating to any criminal legal issues you may be facing call Michael B. Cohen Esq, at: 954-928-0059