Witness jailed 12 days without due process; allegedly false claims by prosecutor who is deemed "absolutely immune."
In Adams v. Hanson, the plaintiff sued an Assistant County Prosecutor after she was jailed for 12 days. The plaintiff had provided a statement that implicated the father of one of her kids in gang-related activity when she was interviewed in a domestic violence complaint. She was then subpoenaed by the Assistant Prosecutor to testify in his preliminary exam, however, Adams refused to testify. She argued that she was six and one-half months pregnant with a high-risk pregancy, that she needed more than a half-day's warning, and that the comments attributed to her in the underlying report were untrue. The Judge then put her in jail, without providing her with a hearing or access to counsel, pending the resumption of the prelim. When the prelim was held, multiple defense counsel in the underlying criminal action sought explanation for her jailing, and the Court and prosecutor disagreed. The Assistant Prosecutor stated she was jailed for contempt, while the Judge indicated she was jailed as a material witness. She was released from custody after testifying and file a 42 USC 1983 action against the Prosecutor, arguing that she had been denied constitutional rights under the 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments. The Federal District Judge dismissed her claim, holding that the Genessee County Assistant Prosecutor was entitled to absolute immunity.On appeal, the Sixth Circuit unanimously upheld this ruling, despite the fact that Adams was never afforded the protections guaranteed under Michigan's Material Witness Statute. Even though the Assistant stipulated, for purposes of her motion for summary judgment, that she had lied to the judge, ex parte, to secure Adams' detention, the Court ruled that as an advocate for the government during a court proceeding, the Prosecutor was entitled to immunity. The Court distinguished this grant of absolute immunity from the limited immunity that is afforded a prosecutor when acting as a complaining witness or in an administrative capacity. It ruled that affording the prosecutor immunity--even for lies--is essential to protect the process of the judiciary. We're not at all sure how that works, and frankly dubious about the claim. The court admitted it was "seriously troubled by the abrogation of Adam's procedural rights" but offered no realistic avenue to protect them.