A Genesee County prosecutor was correctly granted summary judgment of a civil-rights suit filed by a witness who claimed she was jailed for 12 days at the prosecutor’s behest after she balked at testifying at a preliminary exam.
The prosecutor has absolute immunity, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, even if she was less-than-forthcoming with the judge who sent the witness to jail.
Karen Hanson, the assistant prosecutor, was trying to press gang-related racketeering charges against Marquan Cager.
Part of the case hinged on statements LaTasha Adams made about Cager a few years back in a domestic-violence complaint.
On the morning of Cager’s preliminary exam, Adams was served with a subpoena. She showed up at the courthouse. Hanson showed Adams a report documenting her statements about Cager and told her to prepare to testify.
Adams balked. She said she was six months pregnant, the pregnancy was high-risk and she was under a doctor’s care. And here’s another reason, she told Hanson. She didn’t make the statements and besides, none of them were true.
From this point forward, like the judges who ruled and reviewed the grant of summary judgment, we’ll accept Adams’ version of things as the truth.
According to Adams, Hanson went to the judge hearing the case and told him off-the-record that Adams would not testify in accordance with the report. Hanson suggested that the judge hold Adams in contempt. Hanson didn’t tell the judge that Adams had been subpoenaed only that morning, or that she voluntarily came to the courthouse.
What resulted was a mittimus order, signed by the judge, directing that Adams be jailed as a material witness until the court said otherwise. Adams said all this was done to coerce her testimony against Cager.
Adams was jailed for 12 days without the judge ever asking her if she would testify, without being offered counsel or an opportunity to post bond, and without any explanation of the basis of the detention.
Once jailed, Adams indicated she would testify. When the preliminary exam resumed 12 days later, she took the stand, testified, went home and celebrated the conclusion of her ordeal by hitting Hanson with a civil-rights suit.
The federal district court granted Hanson summary judgment on the basis of absolute prosecutorial immunity. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.
Said the Sixth Circuit:
The case thus presents an issue of first impression in this circuit: whether a prosecutor is entitled to absolute immunity for her false and misleading statements to a trial court in the course of criminal proceedings about the availability of a witness. …
We conclude that Hanson’s statements before the trial court at the preliminary examination regarding Adams’ availability as a witness fell within her role as an advocate for the State of Michigan and are therefore absolutely protected. The prosecutorial function includes initiating criminal proceedings, appearing before the court at a probable cause hearing or before a grand jury, seeking an arrest warrant, and preparing witnesses. …
Hanson’s challenged conduct involved the analogous acts of appearing at a preliminary examination and making statements about her discussions with a potential witness – activities “closely related … to h[er] role as an advocate” before the court in criminal proceedings. …
Furthermore, because the issuance of either a material-witness warrant or an order of contempt “is unquestionably a judicial act,” a prosecutor’s statements to the court regarding the availability of a witness are “‘intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process’ … [and are] connected with the initiation and conduct of a prosecution, particularly where,” as here, “the hearing occurs after arrest [of the defendant]” in the criminal proceedings.
It doesn’t matter, said the Sixth Circuit, that Hanson, with an allegedly improper motive, approached the judge outside of a formal proceeding, talked to him off-the-record, and, according to Adams, lied to him about what was going on.
As this court has recently emphasized, “prosecutors do not forfeit their absolute immunity when they knowingly make false statements while advocating before the court,” Pittman v.Cuyahoga Cnty. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 640 F.3d 716, 725 (6th Cir. 2011), “‘so long as the statements were related to the proceeding[s]'” in which they were made … .
It’s good to be the prosecutor.
The case is Adams v. Hanson.