Rehberg v. Paulk
April 2, 2012
Case #: 10-788
Alito, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-788.pdf
Criminal Procedure: A grand jury witness is entitled to the same absolute immunity from a § 1983 suit as a trial witness.
Petitioner brought a 42 U.S.C § 1983 claim for presentation of false testimony after Respondent, a district attorney’s office investigator, testified against Petitioner at three different grand jury hearings in which the indictments were dismissed. Respondent moved to dismiss based on claim of absolute immunity, and Petitioner argued that because Respondent was a "complaining witness" he was not entitled to immunity. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss, but the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed holding that Respondent had absolute immunity.
The Supreme Court affirmed holding that a grand jury witness is entitled to the same immunity as a trial witness. The Court reasoned that without immunity, grand jury witnesses might refuse to testify or modify their testimony for fear of being sued, thus impairing the truth-seeking function of the process, and that civil penalties for perjury are sufficient to deter false testimony. The Court also clarified that a “complaining witness” is one who initiates a criminal proceeding—typically a prosecutor—as opposed to a witness providing testimony. Because Respondent's role in the indictment was limited to grand jury testimony, he was not a complaining witness, and therefore is entitled to the same absolute immunity afforded a trial witness.