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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to Consider Investigator Immunity for False Grand Jury Testimony

Posted Mar 22, 2011 7:48 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a investigator in a Georgia district attorney’s office has absolute immunity in a civil suit claiming he gave false testimony to a grand jury.

The investigator, James Paulk of Dougherty County, had testified that an accountant, Charles Rehberg, had harassed hospital officials, the Associated Press reports. Paulk later recanted, saying he started an investigation as a favor to the Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital after the accountant had sent officials there a series of faxes criticizing the hospital’s billing practices.

The prosecutors had indicted Rehberg three times in a six-month period, but each indictment failed for a lack of evidence, Courthouse News Service reports.

At issue is whether a government official who acts as a complaining witness and commits perjury has absolute immunity in a civil suit, SCOTUSblog reports.

The cert petition (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog) says the Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement officials have absolute immunity in civil cases for perjured testimony at trial, but not when acting as a complaining witness to initiate an invalid arrest warrant. The federal appeals courts are split on the immunity issue for false testimony by government officials before grand juries.

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