According to the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), the American criminal justice system "holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 942 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,283 local jails, and 79 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the US territories."

In other words, the United States has a mass incarceration problem.

In short, fear, drugs and profit are the driving forces behind America's dubious distinction -- the largest incarcerated population in the world. But research, advocacy and changes in politics have led to a push to reduce these numbers.

Many of the proposed changes have focused on federal and state prisons. Lost in the shuffle are the millions of people who enter jails each year. For true reform to happen, it must start at the more than 3,200 local jails in America.

The Prison Policy Initiative released a report in March which focused not just the vastness of incarceration, but also the reasons why so many are imprisoned. Within the data is an alarming statistic: "Every year, 636,000 people walk out of prison gates, but people go to jail over 11 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because most people in jails have not been convicted."

Of the 646,000 people in local jails, more than 450,000 are not serving time for a convicted offense. Only 195,000 of them have been convicted -- mostly for misdemeanors -- and are serving time of less than one year. The remainder have been arrested and will make bail in a few hours or days -- or await a judge if they cannot afford to pay the bail amount.

Surprisingly, the number of individuals entering jail is not due to an increase in criminal activity. Jail is being used as a punishment for minor infractions. For example, many cities rely on the money generated by traffic tickets and court fees to maintain their budget.

Since the police usually target poorer citizens, they become saddled with extra fees when they can't pay the original fine. These individuals are often arrested and not released until they post bail or see a judge about the past due fines --  which can sometimes result in days, or even months, jail time. In many places, jails have become de facto debtor prisons.

There are also a number of people who are arrested for violating the conditions of their probation. These individuals can end up in jail for a few days or for the remainder of their sentence. These factors, along with backlogged courts, have created overcrowding and dangerous conditions.

By design, jails are meant to be temporary facilities, housing those recently arrested, on parole violations or serving a sentence of a year or less. They do not have the resources to accommodate the current numbers of detainees.

In some cases, attempts to reform the system have backfired and made the situation worse.

In 2011, California began a realignment program in response to a Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. Measures included putting non-violent offenders in programs under local county supervision. People who would normally go to state prison are now allowed to spend a portion of their time in the county jail and the rest under strict supervision of the probation department.

Many counties lack the resources to maintain the supervision requirements, resulting in more time served. In Los Angeles County, the overcrowding became such an issue that bunk beds were placed in basement areas of women's jails to handle the overflow. Violence increased in men's jails, as overcrowding put more people alongside gang members -- the traditional jail occupants.

Yet, 99 percent of the increase in jail population in the past 15 years comes from the "pre-trial" or "unconvicted" population. Large bail amounts can leave people in jail for weeks, months -- and sometimes years. Many criminal justice advocates are pushing for bail reform that would reduce or remove bail as a condition for release, except for the most severe offenses.

Those unable to make bail are also unable to afford a lawyer. Instead, they must rely on an underfunded public defender system. It should be no surprise, then, that most "convictions" are a result of a plea bargain. The prospect of remaining in jail for a minor offense -- even when innocent -- is enough to convince people to accept a deal.

Jails are the key to true criminal justice reform. The money spent holding people for minor infractions would be better used to create alternative programs -- especially for first time offenders.

Jail time for non-criminal offenses disrupts -- and can even destroy -- the lives of people who often already struggle. Like all things, real change starts with compassion and community.

 

on petition for writ of certiorari to the supreme judicial court of massachusetts

No. 14–10078. Decided March 21, 2016

 

Per Curiam.

The Court has held that “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding,” District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570, 582 (2008) , and that this “ Second Amendment right is fully applicable to the States,” McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742, 750 (2010) . In this case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a Massachusetts law prohibiting the possession of stun guns after examining “whether a stun gun is the type of weapon contemplated by Congress in 1789 as being protected by the Second Amendment.” 470 Mass. 774, 777, 26 N. E. 3d 688, 691 (2015).

The court offered three explanations to support its holding that the Second Amendment does not extend to stun guns. First, the court explained that stun guns are not protected because they “were not in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment.”  Id., at 781, 26 N. E. 3d, at 693. This is inconsistent with Heller’s clear statement that the Second Amendment “extends . . . to . . . arms . . . that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” 554 U. S., at 582.

The court next asked whether stun guns are “dangerous per se at common law and unusual,” 470 Mass., at 781, 26 N. E. 3d, at 694, in an attempt to apply one “important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms,” Heller, 554 U. S., at 627; see ibid. (referring to “the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’ ”). In so doing, the court concluded that stun guns are “unusual” because they are “a thoroughly modern invention.” 470 Mass., at 781, 26 N. E. 3d, at 693–694. By equating “unusual” with “in common use at the time of the Second Amendment’s enactment,” the court’s second explanation is the same as the first; it is inconsistent with Heller for the same reason.

Finally, the court used “a contemporary lens” and found “nothing in the record to suggest that [stun guns] are readily adaptable to use in the military.” 470 Mass., at 781, 26 N. E. 3d, at 694. But Heller rejected the proposition “that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected.” 554 U. S., at 624–625.

For these three reasons, the explanation the Massachusetts court offered for upholding the law contradicts this Court’s precedent. Consequently, the petition for a writ of certiorari and the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis are granted. The judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

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BEFORE: FUENTES, JORDAN, and VANASKIE, Circuit Judges. Renee Pietropaolo, Esq., [Argued], Office of Federal Public Defender, Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellant, Thomas David Steiner. Jane M. Dattilo, Esq. [Argued], Rebecca R. Haywood, Esq., Office of United States Attorney, Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellee United States of America.

OPINION OF THE COURT

During the execution of two separate search warrants at properties that police believed were owned or occupied by defendant Thomas Steiner, police seized, among other things, a sawed-off shotgun, .32 and .38 caliber ammunition, and 12 gauge shotgun ammunition. As a result, Steiner was indicted on two counts for being a felon-in-possession of a firearm and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Following a 4–day trial, he was convicted on one count of felony-possession of ammunition and sentenced to an 87–month prison term.

During the trial, the government introduced into evidence the fact that a warrant had issued for Steiner's arrest on an unrelated charge. Steiner appeals, contending that the District Court improperly admitted evidence of the arrest warrant that was unrelated to the offenses he faced at trial. He also argues that the District Court erred by failing to instruct the jury that it was required to reach a unanimous verdict as to each type of ammunition seized. While we conclude that the admission of the unrelated arrest warrant was error, the error was harmless. We also conclude that the District Court did not err when it declined to provide a unanimity instruction. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the conviction.

I. Background1

This case arises from a sting operation. In August 2007, police informant Timothy Stants told Pennsylvania State Trooper Thomas Baumgard that Thomas Steiner, a convicted felon, was staying on his (Stants') property and was “on the run” from law enforcement. Stants also claimed that Steiner had a sawed-off shotgun, which Steiner had described to him as a “cop killer,” and that Steiner said he would use the gun to avoid being arrested. Stants claimed that the shotgun would be found in a camper on Stants' property.

Based on Stants' tip, Baumgard obtained a search warrant for the camper. Before executing the warrant on August 27, 2007, Baumgard paid Stants $100 for his help in securing Steiner's arrest and told Stants to drive Steiner to a nearby gas station. There, officers would be waiting to arrest Steiner on a warrant that had issued for Steiner's arrest for failure to appear at a preliminary hearing scheduled that same day, on an unrelated sexual assault charge. Baumgard conducted his search of the camper in the afternoon, just after Stants drove Steiner away to the gas station. He found—among other things—a sawed-off shotgun loaded with six rounds of 12–gauge shotgun ammunition, a wallet containing various documents, all bearing Steiner's name, and a discharged shotgun shell. Soon after the search, Baumgard ordered Steiner arrested on the warrant issued for his failure to appear at the preliminary hearing earlier that day. At the time of his arrest, Steiner was in Stants' car at a nearby gas station.

Apparently, there was more to the story than the gun and ammunition found in the camper. Stants also told police that he had seen the missing pieces of the sawed-off shotgun (part of the barrel and stock) at a home that Steiner supposedly owned, located at Meadow Avenue (the “home” or the “Meadow Avenue home”). Based on Stants' tip, police obtained another search warrant, this time for the home.

Police executed the search warrant for the home on August 29, 2007. When they arrived, they entered the basement of the home, which was in disarray.2 There, they found a shotgun stock on the bar and a shotgun barrel in the ceiling where a tile was missing .3 Also, they discovered a hacksaw and pipe wrenches on the basement floor and a single 12–gauge shotgun shell in a pocket of the pool table. Four other 12–gauge shotgun shells were found in a bowl, on top of which was Steiner's notice of impending warrant of arrest. In addition to the shotgun ammunition, the police also discovered a variety of other types of ammunition, including 20 rounds of .32 caliber ammunition and 17 rounds of .38 Special ammunition.

Based on the shotgun and ammunition found in the camper, a grand jury charged Steiner with one count of being a felon-in-possession of a firearm and ammunition in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). A superseding indictment was filed several months later, adding a second count charging Steiner with a violation of § 922(g) based on the ammunition found in the home.

A. The Trial

1. Testimony

The government's case against Steiner proceeded to a jury trial.4 At trial, Steiner stipulated to having a prior felony conviction. He testified in his own defense and denied that he ever owned or possessed the shotgun or ammunition seized from either the camper or the basement of the home. Steiner also acknowledged that he owned the wallet found in the camper and admitted that he owned the Meadow Avenue home at some point in 2007.

Steiner's ex-wife, Greta Steiner, was called as a witness. She testified that although she had been living at a different address in 2007, she occasionally stopped at the Meadow Avenue home to retrieve her belongings. She also testified that during these visits she saw neither firearms nor ammunition in the home but she recalled having stored boxes of antique ammunition that belonged to her deceased ex-husband in the home's garage. She denied that anyone ever brought the ammunition into the home and claimed that Steiner was unaware of the ammunition. Neither Steiner nor the government presented evidence about whether the ammunition stored in the garage may have been moved to the basement.

Mark Williams, Stants' close friend, testified for the government. Williams claimed that he had been inside Steiner's home in August 2007 because he was interested in purchasing the property.5 At that time, Williams said that he noticed the shotgun barrel and the hacksaw laying on a homemade bar and pointed them out to Stants. Williams also claimed that Steiner told him that he “wouldn't go easy” if the police tried to arrest him.

Stants also testified. He denied receiving any benefit for his help in securing Steiner's arrest, despite Baumgard's testimony that he had paid Stants $100 for his assistance. He also corroborated Williams' testimony regarding the basement of the home and admitted that he had visited Steiner's home twice in Steiner's absence.

2. The Government's Arrest Warrant Evidence

During Steiner's trial, the government introduced the arrest warrant that had issued based upon Steiner's failure to appear on the sexual assault charge. The government argued that the arrest warrant,6 though not the underlying conduct, was admissible to show that Steiner “was on the run from law enforcement at the time, hiding out in this trailer,” and was intending to “evade the warrant and not appear” at the preliminary hearing because “[t]hat's what led officers to his trailer in the first place.”7 The government claimed that the arrest warrant “complete[d] the story” because it was “background of what led law enforcement to Mr. Steiner to begin with in this case.”8 However, this was not true. Stants' tip regarding the shotgun was the actual source of the government's initial interest in Steiner. The District Court, relying on the government's representation, admitted the arrest warrant evidence as “background” under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). The court reasoned that, as long as the underlying conduct was not admitted, any prejudice to Steiner was minimized. The court, though, expressly rejected any argument that the evidence could be admitted to prove Steiner's motive or intent under Rule 404(b).

3. The District Court's Jury Instruction on Unanimity

The government requested that the jury be instructed that although the defendant was charged with possessing ammunition in different varieties or from different locations, it need not unanimously agree on which ammunition he possessed to convict him of felony possession under § 922(g). Steiner objected and requested that the jury be instructed that it must agree as to which ammunition Steiner possessed, adding the indictment was confusing. The District Court adopted the government's position and instructed the jury that unanimity was not required with respect to the firearm or ammunition. Specifically, the court stated:

Although all jurors must agree with respect to Count 1 that the Defendant possessed a firearm or ammunition and with respect to Count 2 that the Defendant possessed different ammunition, you need not all agree on the exact item possessed. For example, if a Defendant was charged with possessing one piece of ammunition found in the bedroom, one piece of ammunition found in the living room, and one piece of ammunition found in the basement, you must all unanimously agree that the Defendant possessed at least one piece of ammunition in order to convict. You do not have to agree on which one or if he possessed more than one.

Therefore, it would be sufficient if ten jurors determined that he possessed one piece of ammunition in the bedroom, one juror determined that he possessed one piece of ammunition found in the basement, and one juror determined that he possessed them all. In other words, if the Defendant is alleged to have been in possession of ammunition of different varieties or from different locations, you must all find that as to the ammunition charged in each count he possessed at least some ammunition as charged in that count in order to convict, but ․ need not all agree with respect to a count on exactly which ammunition was actually possessed as charged in that count.9

The jury found Steiner not guilty on Count One (charging possession of the gun and ammunition in the camper), but guilty on Count Two (charging possession of the ammunition found in the Meadow Avenue home).

II. Discussion

A. Admission of the Arrest Warrant

First, Steiner argues that the District Court erred by admitting evidence of the arrest warrant that had issued for his failure to appear at a preliminary hearing on an unrelated charge. The District Court stated during the in limine hearing on the admissibility of the arrest warrant, and memorialized in its minute entry, that its decision rested on Rule 404(b) grounds.10 Based on the government's representations, the court admitted the evidence as “background” or to “complete the story” of the felon-in-possession crime.

Steiner argues that, while courts in this Circuit have occasionally admitted prior-act evidence under Rule 404(b) for the purpose of “completing the story” or providing “background,” they have also generally limited the use of those purposes to conspiracy cases. In response, the government asserts that the arrest warrant was properly admitted under Rule 404(b) because it identified a proper purpose for the evidence: it was necessary to provide background and complete the story of Steiner's arrest, interrogation, and the police investigation of the crimes charged.

For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the District Court erred by admitting the arrest warrant.

1. Admission of the Arrest Warrant Under Rule 404(b)

We review the District Court's evidentiary rulings principally on an abuse of discretion standard, which occurs only when the district court's decision is “arbitrary, fanciful, or clearly unreasonable”—in short, where “no reasonable person would adopt the district court's view.”11 We have “plenary review, however, of [the district court's] rulings to the extent they are based on a legal interpretation of the Federal Rules of Evidence.”12 This includes plenary review “of whether evidence falls within the scope of Rule 404(b).”13

Rule 404(b) provides that evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove character or demonstrate action in conformity with those acts.14 Prior-act evidence, though, may be admitted “for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.”15 To be admissible, prior-act evidence must satisfy the test set forth in Huddleston v.. United States.16 As the Supreme Court stated there, the proffered evidence must be: (1) offered for a proper purpose under Rule 404(b)(2); (2) relevant to that purpose; (3) sufficiently probative under the Rule 403 balancing requirement; and (4) accompanied by a limiting instruction, if requested.17 And, “unless the reason is apparent from the record, a mere list of the purposes found in Rule 404(b) is insufficient.”18 Indeed, “[t]he district court must put a chain of inferences into the record, none of which is the inference that the defendant has a propensity to commit this crime.”19

In United States v. Green, we concluded that “allowing the jury to understand the circumstances surrounding the charged crime—completing the story—is a proper, non-propensity purpose under Rule 404(b).”20 We also stated that prior-act evidence is admissible to supply “helpful background information to the finder of fact.”21 With all of this in mind, one might ask: is not all evidence helpful to providing background to the factfinder? The answer is yes. But not all helpful evidence is relevant to a proper purpose under Rule 404(b).

In fact, Steiner is correct that the majority of criminal cases in which we have deemed “background” a proper purpose involve conspiracies.22 And there is no conspiracy involved in this case. Also, in at least one opinion that preceded our decision in Green, we specifically warned that, while courts have occasionally admitted prior crimes evidence as “background,” “this label is uninformative at best and, at worst, can be an unacceptable substitute for the analysis required by Rule 404(b).”23

There are unique characteristics that render “background” a proper purpose for admitting prior-act evidence in conspiracy cases. For instance, in proving the existence of a conspiracy, a court might allow a party to present background evidence revealing an ongoing relationship between co-conspirators.24 Likewise, this Court affirmed the admission of background evidence to help the jury understand one conspirator's role in a complex scheme.25 But neither of those models applies in this case.

Here, Steiner is the only defendant. There was no need for the government to explain a complicated back story. We are not suggesting that conspiracy cases are the only ones in which background facts may be admissible as 404(b) evidence. We are saying that, when the information needed to understand what happened in a case is straightforward and easily understood without reference to facts that do not bear on the charged offense, forcing extraneous and potentially prejudicial information into the record in the name of “background” is not defensible under Rule 404(b). That, unfortunately, is what happened here. Stants' tip entirely explained why the government was focusing on Steiner. In fact, the arrest warrant evidence was completely irrelevant to the government's case.26 We therefore find this case to be sufficiently distinct from cases in which “background” evidence may be admissible under Rule 404(b).

In Green, by contrast, we concluded that the background information—evidence that defendant threatened to kill a police officer—was properly admitted under Rule 404(b) because it “fit into a logical chain of inferences” and explained why the defendant was under investigation for the crime charged, attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine.27 We also held that the information was properly admitted for the purpose of proving the informant's motive to cooperate, which was put at issue by the defendant.28 We therefore find Green distinguishable insofar as the prior-act evidence there served to complete the story of the crime charged. Here, we conclude that evidence of the outstanding arrest warrant on the unrelated sexual assault charge had nothing whatsoever to do with Steiner's charged crime of felony possession of a weapon or ammunition under § 922(g).

Again, to be clear, we do not conclude that any evidence offered for the purpose of providing background is only admissible in conspiracy cases. There may—and likely will—be other situations in which such evidence is admissible outside of the conspiracy context. Nor do we venture to paint the absolute contours of when prior-act evidence may be admissible to provide background under Rule 404(b). We simply conclude that, on these facts, the District Court abused its discretion by admitting the arrest warrant evidence for the purpose of providing background.

To be sure, the District Court was not entirely, or even primarily, to blame for its error. The government played a central role. Here, the prosecutor wrongly asserted that the government needed the unrelated arrest warrant to prove that Steiner was guilty of felony possession. Yet it is clear to us that the government did not need the arrest warrant to try a case against Steiner at all. The government had Stants' tip, Stants' and Williams' testimony that Steiner owned the home in 2007 and possessed a shotgun, and a stipulation that Steiner was a felon. Taken together, this evidence strongly supported the government's theory that Steiner unlawfully possessed the firearm and ammunition. The only purpose the arrest warrant served was to improperly suggest that Steiner was predisposed to commit criminal acts.

In sum, we are deeply troubled by the government's inaccurate claim that the arrest warrant was “what led officers to [Steiner's] trailer in the first place,” and we are persuaded that that inaccuracy led the District Court to err by admitting evidence of the warrant.29 We therefore admonish the government to take greater care in its representations to the trial court and not brandish Rule 404(b) so cavalierly.30

2. Whether the error was harmless

While we find that the District Court improperly admitted the arrest warrant, we conclude that the error was harmless.31 “[A]n error is harmless if it did not have a ‘substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.’ “32 Moreover, we will uphold a conviction “if the reviewing court may confidently say, on the whole record, that the constitutional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”33

First, the arrest warrant evidence had no prejudicial impact on the jury's determination as to Count One, because Steiner was found not guilty of that charge. It is therefore reasonable to infer that the evidence had no effect as to Count Two. Second, the District Court did not disclose the conduct underlying the arrest warrant, that is, the alleged sexual assault of a minor. Third, at trial, Steiner stipulated to having a prior felony conviction. Also, when he took the stand, Steiner admitted that he was previously convicted of crimes of falsehood—burglary, theft, and felony forgery. And finally, the ample evidence presented surrounding Steiner's ownership and occupation of the home, Stants' and Williams' testimony regarding the same, and the lack of evidence linking the antique ammunition in the garage to the ammunition found in the home, convinces us that the additional arrest warrant evidence had no substantial or injurious effect on the jury's guilty verdict as to Count Two.

We therefore conclude that any error in admitting the prior act evidence under Rule 404(b) was harmless.

B. Steiner's Jury Instruction Challenge

Next, Steiner argues in his briefs that the District Court erred by refusing to instruct jurors that they must unanimously agree as to which ammunition he possessed to find him guilty under Count Two. In support of his claim, Steiner argues that the government improperly bundled into Count Two multiple, distinct violations of § 922(g), each of which should have been prosecuted as a separate violation of the statute.34 Put another way, he claims that the indictment was “duplicitous” because the government improperly joined possession of separate types of ammunition into one count.35 To cure this defect, Steiner contends that the District Court should have instructed the jury that it had to unanimously determine which ammunition Steiner possessed to find him guilty on Count Two. By expressly declining to give this curative jury instruction, Steiner argues that the District Court deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury verdict, and therefore his conviction under Count Two should be vacated.

We reject Steiner's argument. In our view, the evidence at trial overwhelmingly demonstrated that Steiner possessed the ammunition in one part of the Meadow Avenue home, which he owned in 2007. For the additional reasons that follow, we therefore conclude the indictment properly charged Steiner with a single violation of § 922(g) under Count Two and that a special unanimity instruction was not required.

Whether an indictment is duplicitous is a question of law subject to de novo review.36 We also review de novo “whether the jury instructions stated the proper legal standard.”37 “We review the refusal to give a particular instruction or the wording of instructions for abuse of discretion.”38

Duplicity is the improper combining of separate offenses into a single count.39 When a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury verdict is jeopardized by a duplicitous indictment, a court can cure the indictment by issuing a limiting instruction requiring the jury to unanimously find the defendant guilty of at least one distinct act.40

Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(3)(B), a motion alleging a defect in the indictment must be made before trial. Yet while a defendant waives technical errors to an indictment by his failure to object to the duplicity before trial, courts have held that the alleged harm to the defendant's substantive rights resulting from a duplicitous indictment can be raised at trial or on appeal, notwithstanding the defendant's failure to make a pretrial motion.41 “The rationale for this distinction is that, whereas Rule 12 applies only to defects in the institution of criminal proceedings ․ a verdict rendered by a less-than-unanimous jury violates a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights by a harm that arises from the trial itself.”42

Count Two of the indictment charged Steiner with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), which, in relevant part, provides: “It shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year ․ to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition; or to receive any firearm or ammunition which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.”

To determine whether Count Two was duplicitous, we first focus on the “allowable unit of prosecution” to decide whether the indictment properly charges a violation of the relevant statute.43 We have held that the allowable unit of prosecution under § 922(g) is the “incident of possession,” regardless of whether a defendant possessed more than one firearm, or possessed a firearm and ammunition.44In other words, we ask if the evidence establishes that the defendant committed a single act of possessing firearms or ammunition, or instead whether the evidence indicates that multiple, distinct acts of unlawful possession occurred.

We have also stated that simultaneous possession of multiple firearms or pieces of ammunition does not give rise to a separate offense for each firearm or piece of ammunition possessed.45 Likewise, multiple convictions for possession of multiple firearms may be appropriate where the firearms in question were seized in different locations or if they were acquired in separate transactions.46

These observations lead us to the question of how we determine whether an indictment is duplicitous when someone is charged with felony possession of various types of ammunition, all of which are located in the basement of a home. In resolving Steiner's challenge, our prior cases provide us with sufficient guidance. In this case, we conclude that the indictment was not duplicitous and that a curative jury instruction was not required.

In United States v. Marino and United States v. Frankenberry, we held that the simultaneous possession or receipt of several firearms by a convicted felon constituted a single offense under the predecessor statutes to § 922(g), absent a showing that the weapons were separately stored or acquired.47 We further elaborated on the concept of simultaneous possession in United States v. Tann. In Tann, the indictment charged the defendant with two separate § 922(g) violations based upon possession of a gun found in the bathroom where he was arrested and ammunition that was located in his pocket at the same time.48 There, we determined that the two items were simultaneously possessed. As a result, we concluded that possession of both a firearm and ammunition, seized at the same time in the same location, supported only one conviction and sentence under § 922(g).49

However, in United States v. Kennedy, we held that mere physical proximity does not demonstrate simultaneous possession.50 There, we declined to find simultaneous possession where firearms were stored in two separate vehicles located on the same premises.51 In reaching this conclusion, we specifically noted that, when determining whether firearms are simultaneously possessed, what matters is the defendant's “course of ․ treatment of the firearms,” which “may not be viewed in a frozen, momentary state immediately prior to the seizure.”52 We therefore held that the district court erred when it merged two separate felony possession counts for purposes of resentencing the defendant.53

These cases demonstrate that determining whether individual firearms or ammunition were simultaneously possessed is a highly fact-driven inquiry that depends on the circumstances surrounding a defendant's alleged conduct.

Here, other than Steiner's testimony, there is little, if any, evidence supporting Steiner's contention that the ammunition found in the home was acquired at different times and for different purposes, or that it was separately stored in the home. By contrast, the evidence at trial strongly demonstrated that Steiner owned the home in 2007 and that all of the ammunition was stored in various parts of the basement.54 Moreover, at least some of the 12–gauge ammunition was literally found resting under Steiner's notice of impending warrant of arrest. And, while Steiner's ex-wife testified that she brought various types of antique ammunition into the garage in 1999, none of the ammunition that Steiner was charged with possessing was located in the garage, and none of the physical evidence specifically linked the ammunition found in the basement to Greta Steiner or her deceased ex-husband. Moreover, even if we accepted that Greta Steiner purchased the ammunition found in the basement in the first instance, the jury could have found that Steiner himself later acquired the ammunition from Greta Steiner, and not, as Steiner claims, from other sources on other occasions.

In sum, we conclude that the indictment was not duplicitous. Accordingly, the District Court's failure to give a special unanimity instruction as to Count Two did not constitute a violation of Steiner's Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous jury verdict.55

III. Conclusion

For the reasons set forth above, we will affirm the District Court's judgment.56

 

by Irwin Ironstone –

Lying in Court??

There is a classic line in the movie “Casablanca where a police officer, Captain Renault, in the middle of a casino says: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” After receiving a bribe, he ignores the gambling. I use this example because frequently judges act in a very similar way. People don’t lie in my court! I don’t see any perjury! Judges are required to follow the judicial canons. I wonder how many would be brought up on charges if the reviewing panel were composed of litigants that appeared before them.

Problems Within The System?

There are some law review articles that are critical of experts and lawyers who lie. The articles suggest that money is a major factor in our broken legal system. Money also impacts our executive office, our legislative bodies and our judicial system when judges are elected. We have the best legal system that money can buy. Experts can be bought and testify for their clients contrary to science and contrary to their expertise. They do this because they want to be rehired.

Frequently, judges don’t know when experts are lying or telling the truth. Judges are not trained in scientific areas (or in other less technical areas.) How can we improve the legal system? It certainly will not be improved by allowing experts to review their own. Lawyers place some controls on other fields because they see dollar signs. Obviously, lawyers and judges do not critically evaluate complaints against other members of the legal system. Instead, these “internal professional panels” use their powers selectively in arbitrary and capricious ways that are not to protect the public but their professions. There may be ways to improve our current legal systems, however, that does not appear to be happening internally. One way to improve the ethics panels that judge lawyers conduct is by appointing a majority of non-lawyers to review their actions.

The Supreme Court Justifies Lying In Court?

Another interesting issue related to lying in court was determined in Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983). The Supreme Court in this case, using English and American common law, outlines who is immune and the functions that they perform where they are granted immunity. The majority (6 judges) granted witnesses common law absolute immunity even when they lied when testifying and there is no remedy even after the trial! Similarly, there is absolute immunity for judges and prosecutors in their respective duties in judicial proceedings. However, there are times when prosecutors can be held accountable when they fail to turn over evidence or are knowledgeable about witnesses who lie when they are testifying. Witnesses can sometimes be charged with perjury, but this does not happen frequently. Judges can be charged in some instances in their executive, administrative or executive capacities, but this usually does not happen. They are protected by other judges. If a judge is hostile, or displays a bias in court there is no remedy that is usually available.

The question being asked is when are judges required to enforce the law of perjury and report those who they believed lied in their courtroom to the prosecutors? The next question is when will prosecutors bring charges against those who lie in court?

What Can A Person Do When There Are Lies In Court?

This following letter was written to me by someone who wanted advice about what he/she should do when the opposite side lies in court. About 70 percent of actions based upon domestic violence (hereinafter DV) are dismissed. DV charges are frequently filed to gain an advantage in a divorce action (This is one of those dirty little secrets within our court system and in the matrimonial bar.) A review of charges would most likely show a pattern of lawyers who advise their clients to file these charges in the early stages of a divorce to gain custody and remove their partner from the family home.

Nobody keeps statistics and very few bars report lawyers for this type of advice to their clients. Lying in court happens frequently and when lawyers lie, judges do even less. Judges almost never charge a lawyer with the lack of due diligence, failing to be truthful (Rules of Professional Conduct hereinafter RPC 3.3 Candor to the tribunal), and certainly not with fraud or misconduct (RPC 8.4).

There are several reasons lawyers are not reported for misconduct. Judges were lawyers at one time, and do not want to hurt the career of other lawyers. Judges frequently rely upon lawyers for campaign contributions if they are running for election. Judges do not want members of the bar attacking them and frequently rely upon lawyers to protect them. Judges may not be able to make public statements when they are criticized, and have to follow the cannons of office. Judges don’t have sufficient time to write up complaints against lawyers and certainly won’t do that when the complaint is from a non-lawyer (Rather than write a complaint against a lawyer who acted in a way that upset the judge, the judge may just notify the other judges in the courthouse. The result is that lawyer and his clients are ostracized in the entire courthouse. Yes, this happens.)

The Bar ethics panels also have rules that protect lawyers. This is especially so when there is an ongoing action. This allows bad and unethical lawyers to continue their inappropriate conduct without any review. In family matters, an action can go on for years and this allows the ethics panels to ignore complaints against lawyers for years. In addition, lawyers on an ethics panel keep almost all complaints sealed. This is usually required because it is said that they do not want to harm a lawyer’s reputation. I have observed honest ethical lawyers, but I have also observed lawyers at all levels (including judges who lie with impunity). Based upon my observations and hearing the many complaints, I would probably approve a modification to most states rules related to the confidentiality of the processing of bar ethics complaints.

I have received letters from individuals who want to know what to do when the other side lies in court. First, be prepared and expect anything to happen. Realize that the judge really wants to get your case off his docket. He can do this by having you pay the other sides legal fees; He can do this by sitting on your motions and preventing you from seeing your children; He/she can do just about anything to try to settle an action and get it out of his courtroom.

Dear all:

I am trying to be as objective as possible. I’ll share with you the chain of events and you judge it for yourself and give me your best advice.

On my side I promise you to get to the bottom of this to my last shirt, my last penny, and my last breath. You have my word and commitment.
Courts are frequently not objective.

Chain of events:

1- Recently in a cross-motion my adversaries lied to the Family Court about my records.
Was it presented by the lawyer or by your ex? If it was your ex, file perjury charges.
Sometimes one can try suing for a tort (a civil wrong) but since most witness testimony is protected, it is very difficult to bring an action based upon a witnesses statements in court.
Defamation, libel or slander are torts but when it happens in court, the rules may not apply.
If your ex’s lawyer made false statements (most likely the judge will protect him/her) nothing will happen. Some people might suggest that you file a motion for sanctions against the lawyer. Alternatively, you may be able to file an ethics complaint based upon lack of due diligence, or fraud or lack of candor to the court.
These types of complaints are very rarely prosecuted by an ethics panel. Most states have rules of professional conduct (hereinafter RPC) that controls lawyers conduct. If the ABA or state bar really wanted to protect the public and insure a higher standard of behavior by lawyers, they would make lawyers conduct a tort that could be brought against lawyers in a civil action.
One can also look up the different RPC in your state to determine how to charge the lawyer in a complaint. Some of the common RPC that can be used include: failure to use due diligence; RPC 3.3 candor to the forum (this duty can be during a hearing or after a hearing when a lawyer learns that his/her statements are not true. An additional RPC that can be used is RPC 8.4 (fraud, misrepresentation, etc.)
One problem with making a complaint against a lawyer is that most bar ethics panels keep investigations confidential, even when they warn or sanction a lawyer privately. However, in New Jersey the Supreme Court appears to have changed the law related to what a complainant can do after he/she files a complaint. . Realize that the ethics panels must investigate privately, but the person who made the complaint may be able to post it for the world to see. Certainly, other states would improve their image if they allowed people who complain to post the complaints and talk about them publicly. This will put pressure on the attorney and also the judge.

2- I ran a background check on myself . My record was clean.
Submit this to the judge and the ethics panel along with the transcript of the hearing where you believed the witness or lawyer lied or misrepresented the truth.
3- In my reply to cross-motion I attached the proof to court that my record was clean. That was a good start.

4- In my reply to cross-motion I stated to court that my adversaries committed perjury and requested that the court find them in violation of N.J. criminal laws.
Judges do not want to do this because it would take up their time and the prosecutors do not want to prosecute these actions when there are much more serious crimes. Reporting it to others in addition to the judge would be helpful. After the initial complaint is filed with the bar ethics committee – you may want to send the complaint to a local newspaper with a disclaimer. E.g I am not a lawyer but it appears to me that there were violations of ethics and law in Judge xxxxx courtroom.

5- On 5/8/2014, in my motion hearing I requested that the court find my adversaries in violation of N.J. criminal laws. The judge said she is not interested in that. I have the transcript. See Above –
If someone testifies as a witness they are usually given immunity- did your lawyer object when she/he was testifying? The same goes for expert witnesses. They can lie like a rug and there are usually no consequences. Frequently, judges are not knowledgeable about expert witnesses and although they could get their own expert, that is a costly process and it is discouraged. Not only do experts “testily,” but frequently so do lawyers when the stakes are high.

6- On 5/8/2014 my adversaries had the guts to ask the court to award them attorney fees. The judge denied that because their documents were faulty.
Not because they lied. That is your perception. If the judge charged them with fraud before the court (lying), he/she would have to file formal charges with the bar. That is a lot of paperwork and it might lead to formal charges. There are lots of problem with that approach. I would recommend that you personally file papers not only with the bar but also with the state Attorney General or district attorney.

7- On 7/22/2014 the judge awarded them almost $2000 attorney fees and did nothing about their criminal violations. What was criminal? Can you be more specific.
I do not know what to advise you. Did you request reconsideration with clarification, and explanation with findings of fact and conclusions of law? I am sure that the judge will not reverse the decision. You then have several options. A. file an appeal. – This is difficult and most likely will be dismissed on procedural grounds by the N.J. appellate court. The rules are not easy to follow. If you can limit the issues of your appeal, it makes it more likely for the appellate law clerks to understand your appeal. I would also try to get a federal agency involved in reviewing the action. The other thing that is now available is to try to raise issues in another forum. In the past, the Rooker Feldman doctrine was used to toss many cases out of federal court. However, in Exxon, the Supreme Court said that this doctrine was being overused.

I was shocked.

What happened between 5/8/2014 and 7/22/2014 was that the judge decided to ignore their violation of N.J. criminal code and award them almost $2000?

• One of the difficulties with this letter is that there are general allegations.
• What N.J. criminal code was violated?
• What crimes are you charging them with and where have you filed your complaint?
• In order to respond to this letter, make the presumption that the other party reading this letter does not know about your action.
• Can you take several steps so that anyone can read the proposed complaint without you being there to explain why you believe a crime has been committed?
• At one time, I went to a lecture about how to prepare an appeal – One of the things that was emphasized is that the appellate judges have no idea what you are appealing and what you want from the appeal.
• Imagine that the appellate judges are smart kids who are age 10-14. Can you draft your complaint and appeal so that these kids can understand what happened, why it is criminal (or tortuous), and the relief that you want from the court?

Please give me your best advice.

Thanks

John Doe

Conclusion

Dear John Doe: I wrote up a response to your letter asking about what a person could do about lying in court. It is usually not the basis of perjury because of witness immunity – although – some judges will report it for prosecutors to bring charges.
However, that does not prevent you from filing a bar ethics complaint against the lawyer because you believe that the lawyer new, or should have known that it was not true and said nothing.

The bar ethics panel will toss it because they do not want to go after lawyers while an action is ongoing. However, you can post both on the web or do it anonymously and criticize:

a. The bar ethics panel for not doing their job and protecting the public. (the bar ethics panel is frequently used as a political tool to get rid of attorneys who question a judge or a bar policy). Frequently, the ethics panel does not save complaints against attorneys so that patterns can be tracked. E.g. an attorney whose clients lie? An attorney where their client’s charge the other side with domestic violence. Any other questionable conduct that is reported that violates the Rules of Professional conduct. e.g. fraud, misstating information to a judicial panel; talking to a pro se party or talking to a party who is represented by a lawyer; any other violation of RPC (failure to supervise, failure to report misconduct of a judge or another attorney:****

b. The judge for not doing anything when there was evidence showing that someone lied before her (either a lawyer or your ex, or both) When you criticize a judge it is also nice to write to the assignment judge, members of any judicial panels in the legislature, and the governor;

c. Obviously, your ex’s lawyer or your ex; and

d. Any type of public media – newspaper, radio station, sixty-minutes, etc.

Evidently, the N.J. Supreme Court said that as a person complaining you have the right to let the public know about it. It is protected speech under the First Amendment. For those who are not from New Jersey, cite to this opinion, and try to get an attorney from your state to bring an action on your behalf. In the action that was brought in New Jersey the Attorney for the Plaintiff was awarded fees. That is noted in a second opinion from the N.J. Supreme Court. See R.M., v. Supreme Court of New Jersey, District XIII Ethics Committee and Office of Attorney Ethics, [918 A.2d 8 (2007)]

However, it is always best if it is published by a third party on a web site so that they can say we do not know who published it. It could have been anyone who was in the court, or who read the papers, or who spoke to any of the parties involved!

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=–=-= =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

[1] Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 did not authorize a convicted state defendant to assert a claim for damages against a police officer for giving perjured testimony at the defendant’s criminal trial. Three Justices dissented and said that the majority (6 judges) erred when interpreting the legislation and the legislative intent.

[2] See the movie my cousin Vinnie – for several good examples of experts, witness testimony, judicial bias, and other issues including the competence of lawyers.

[3] Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219 (1988), was a case decided on by the United States Supreme Court. The case restricted judicial immunity in certain instances.

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This is from the following web site
https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/460/325/case.html
Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983)

The majority grants witnesses common law absolute immunity even when they lied when testifying and there is no remedy even after the trial! Similarly, there is absolute immunity for judges and prosecutors in their respective duties in judicial proceedings.
In the words of one 19th-century court, in damages suits against witnesses,

“the claims of the individual must yield to
Page 460 U. S. 333 the dictates of public policy, which requires that the paths which lead to the ascertainment of truth should be left as free and unobstructed as possible.”
The common law, and the courts wanted witnesses to come forward to testify. And they do not want a witness testimony to be distorted by fear of subsequent liability.
But the truthfinding process is better
Page 460 U. S. 334 served if the witness’ testimony is submitted to “the crucible of the judicial process, so that the factfinder may consider it, after cross-examination, together with the other evidence in the case to determine where the truth lies.”
the absolute immunity of public prosecutors was “based on the policy of protecting the judicial process.”
And, in the case of police officers, who cooperate regularly with prosecutors in the enforcement of criminal law, prosecution for perjury is alleged to be so unlikely that it is not an effective substitute for civil damages.
Page 460 U. S. 342 A police officer on the witness stand performs the same functions as any other witness; he is subject to compulsory process, takes an oath, responds to questions on direct examination and cross-examination, and may be prosecuted subsequently for perjury.
As Judge Learned Hand wrote years ago: “As is so often the case, the answer must be found in a balance between the evils inevitable in either alternative. In this instance, it has been thought in the end better to leave unredressed the wrongs done by dishonest officers than to subject those who try to do their duty to the constant dread of retaliation.”

345 In short, the rationale of our prior absolute immunity cases governs the disposition of this case. In 1871, common law immunity for witnesses was well settled. The principles set forth in Pierson v. Ray to protect judges and in Imbler v. Pachtman to protect prosecutors also apply to witnesses, who perform a somewhat different function in the trial process, but whose participation in bringing the litigation to a

356 The majority’s decision is also predicated on its conclusion that there is “no evidence that Congress intended to abrogate the traditional common law witness immunity in § 1983 actions.” Ante at 460 U. S. 337. In fact, there is considerable evidence in the legislative history that Congress did intend to abrogate the immunity of participants in state judicial proceedings.

U.S. Supreme Court
Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983)
Briscoe v. LaHue
No. 81-1404
Argued November 9, 1982
Decided March 7, 1983
460 U.S. 325

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus
Held: Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. V) does not authorize a convicted state defendant to assert a claim for damages against a police officer for giving perjured testimony at the defendant’s criminal trial. Pp. 460 U. S. 329-346.
(a) The common law provided absolute immunity from subsequent damages liability for all persons — governmental or otherwise — who were integral parts of the judicial process. Section 1983 does not authorize a damages claim against private witnesses. Similarly, judges, Pierson v. Ray, 386 U. S. 547, and prosecutors, Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409, may not be held liable for damages under § 1983 for the performance of their respective duties in judicial proceedings. When a police officer appears as a witness, he may reasonably be viewed as acting like any witness sworn to tell the truth, in which event he can make a strong claim to witness immunity. Alternatively, he may be regarded as an official performing a critical role in the judicial process, in which event he may seek the benefit afforded to other governmental participants in the same proceeding. Nothing in § 1983’s language suggests that a police officer witness belongs in a narrow, special category lacking protection against damages suits. Pp. 460 U. S. 329-336.
(b) Nor does anything in the legislative history of the statute indicate that Congress intended to abrogate common law witness immunity in order to provide a damages remedy under § 1983 against police officers or any other witnesses. Pp. 460 U. S. 336-341.
(c) There is some force to the contentions that the reasons supporting common law witness immunity — the need to avoid intimidation and self-censorship — apply with diminished force to police officers, and that police officers’ perjured testimony is likely to be more damaging to constitutional rights than such testimony by ordinary citizens. But immunity analysis rests on functional categories, not on the defendant’s status. A police officer witness performs the same functions as any other witness. Moreover, to the extent that traditional reasons for witness immunity are less applicable to governmental witnesses, other considerations of public policy support absolute immunity for such witnesses more emphatically than for ordinary witnesses. Subjecting government officials, such as police officers, to damages liability under § 1983 for their testimony might undermine not only their contribution to the judicial
Page 460 U. S. 326
process but also the effective performance of their other public duties. Pp. 460 U. S. 341-346.
663 F.2d 713, affirmed.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O’CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 460 U. S. 346. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined except as to Part I, post, p. 460 U. S. 346. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 460 U. S. 369.
JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents a question of statutory construction: whether 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. V) authorizes a convicted person to assert a claim for damages against a police officer for giving perjured testimony at his criminal trial. The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that witnesses are absolutely immune from damages liability based on their testimony, and rejected the petitioners’ contention that government officials who testify about the performance of their official duties may be held liable under § 1983 even if other witnesses may not. We agree with that conclusion.

The Court of Appeals heard argument in three separate cases raising the absolute immunity issue, and decided them in a single opinion. Two of these cases are before us on a writ of certiorari. Petitioner Briscoe was convicted in state court of burglarizing a house trailer. He then filed a § 1983 complaint against respondent LaHue, a member of the Bloomington, Indiana, police force, alleging that LaHue had violated his constitutional right to due process by committing perjury in the criminal proceedings leading to his conviction. [Footnote 1] LaHue had testified that, in his opinion, Briscoe was one of no more than 50 to 100 people in Bloomington whose prints would match a partial thumbprint on a piece of glass found at the scene of the crime. According to Briscoe, the testimony was false, because the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state police considered the partial print too incomplete to be of value, and, without the print, there was no evidence identifying him as the burglar. He sought $100,000 in damages. The District Court granted LaHue’s motion for summary judgment on four separate grounds: (1) the facts alleged in the complaint did not suggest that LaHue had testified falsely; (2) allegations of perjury alone are insufficient to state a constitutional claim; (3) LaHue had not testified “under color of law”; and (4) Briscoe’s claim was collaterally estopped by his criminal conviction.

Petitioners Vickers and Ballard were jointly tried and convicted of sexual assault in state court. They subsequently brought a civil action under § 1983 against respondent Hunley, a member of the Cedar Lake, Indiana, police force, alleging that he had deprived them of their constitutional rights to due process and a fair trial. They alleged that, by giving false testimony suggesting that they had been able to harmonize their stories before making exculpatory statements to police, he had prejudicially diminished the credibility of those statements. Each plaintiff sought $150,000 in compensatory and $50,000 in punitive damages. The Federal Magistrate granted a motion to dismiss the complaint on alternative grounds: (1) Hunley had not testified “under color of law”; (2) he was entitled to absolute witness immunity; and (3) petitioners had failed to state a claim under § 1983 because they did not allege that the prosecutor had knowingly used false testimony. The District Court affirmed the dismissal on the first ground. Both cases were appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. [Footnote 2]

Page 460 U. S. 328

Although other issues were argued in the Court of Appeals, its holding in both cases was predicated squarely on the ground that, in litigation brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. V), all witnesses — police officers as well as lay witnesses — are absolutely immune from civil liability based on their testimony in judicial proceedings. 663 F.2d 713 (1981). [Footnote 3] Because of the importance of the immunity question, which has given rise to divergent conclusions in the Courts of Appeals, [Footnote 4] we granted certiorari. 455 U.S. 1016 (1982). [Footnote 5]

Page 460 U. S. 329

Before confronting the precise question that this case presents — whether § 1983 creates a damages remedy against police officers for their testimony as witnesses — we begin by considering the potential liability of lay witnesses, on the one hand, and of judges and prosecutors who perform integral functions in judicial proceedings, on the other hand. The unavailability of a damages remedy against both of these categories sheds considerable light on petitioners’ claim that Congress intended police officer witnesses to be treated differently.

I

There are two reasons why § 1983 does not allow recovery of damages against a private party for testimony in a judicial proceeding. First, § 1983 does not create a remedy for all conduct that may result in violation of “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” Its reach is limited to actions taken “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory. . . .” [Footnote 6] It is beyond question that, when a private

Page 460 U. S. 330

party gives testimony in open court in a criminal trial, that act is not performed “under color of law.” [Footnote 7]

Second, since 1951, when this Court decided Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U. S. 367, it has been settled that the all-encompassing language of § 1983, referring to “[e]very person” who, under color of law, deprives another of federal constitutional or statutory rights, is not to be taken literally. [Footnote 8]

“It is by now well settled that the tort liability created by § 1983 cannot be understood in a historical vacuum. . . . One important assumption underlying the Court’s decisions in this area is that members of the 42d Congress were familiar with common law principles, including defenses previously recognized in ordinary tort litigation, and that they likely intended these common law principles to obtain, absent specific provisions to the contrary.”

City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U. S. 247, 453 U. S. 258 (1981). See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U. S. 547, 386 U. S. 554 (1967).

The immunity of parties and witnesses from subsequent damages liability for their testimony in judicial proceedings [Footnote 9]

Page 460 U. S. 331

was well established in English common law. Cutler v. Dixon, 4 Co.Rep. 14b, 76 Eng.Rep. 886 (Q.B. 1585); Anfield v. Feverhill, 2 Bulst. 269, 80 Eng.Rep. 1113 (K.B. 1614); Henderson v. Broomhead, 4 H. & N. 569, 578, 157 Eng.Rep. 964, 968 (Ex. 1859); [Footnote 10] see Dawkins v. Lord Rokeby, 4 F. & F. 806, 833-834, 176 Eng.Rep. 800, 812 (C. P. 1866). Some American decisions required a showing that the witness’ allegedly defamatory statements were relevant to the judicial proceeding, but once this threshold showing had been made, the witness had an absolute privilege. [Footnote 11] The

Page 460 U. S. 332

plaintiff could not recover even if the witness knew the statements were false and made them with malice. [Footnote 12]

In the words of one 19th-century court, in damages suits against witnesses,

“the claims of the individual must yield to

Page 460 U. S. 333

the dictates of public policy, which requires that the paths which lead to the ascertainment of truth should be left as free and unobstructed as possible.”

Calkins v. Sumner, 13 Wis.193, 197 (1860). A witness’ apprehension of subsequent damages liability might induce two forms of self-censorship. First, witnesses might be reluctant to come forward to testify. See Henderson v. Broomhead, supra, at 578-579, 157 Eng.Rep. at 968. And once a witness is on the stand, his testimony might be distorted by the fear of subsequent liability. See Barnes v. McCrate, 32 Me. 442, 446-447 (1851). Even within the constraints of the witness’ oath, there may be various ways to give an account or to state an opinion. These alternatives may be more or less detailed, and may differ in emphasis and certainty. A witness who knows that he might be forced to defend a subsequent lawsuit, and perhaps to pay damages, might be inclined to shade his testimony in favor of the potential plaintiff, to magnify uncertainties, and thus to deprive the finder of fact of candid, objective, and undistorted evidence. See Veeder, Absolute Immunity in Defamation: Judicial Proceedings, 9 Colum.L.Rev. 463, 470 (1909). [Footnote 13] But the truthfinding process is better

Page 460 U. S. 334

served if the witness’ testimony is submitted to

“the crucible of the judicial process, so that the factfinder may consider it, after cross-examination, together with the other evidence in the case to determine where the truth lies.”

Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409, 424 U. S. 440 (1976) (WHITE, J., concurring in judgment). [Footnote 14]

At least with respect to private witnesses, it is clear that § 1983 did not abrogate the absolute immunity existing at common law, and petitioners do not contend otherwise. Like the immunity for legislators at issue in Tenney v. Brandhove, the common law’s protection for witnesses is “a tradition so well grounded in history and reason” that we cannot believe that Congress impinged on it “by covert inclusion in the general language before us.” 341 U.S. at 341 U. S. 376.

II
The Court has already addressed the question whether § 1983 permits damages recoveries from judges, prosecutors, and other persons acting “under color of law” who perform official functions in the judicial process. Again, we have found that, in light of common law immunity principles, § 1983 did not impose liability on these officials. We have held that state judges are absolutely immune from liability for their judicial acts, Pierson v. Ray, 386 U. S. 547 (1967); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U. S. 349 (1978), and that state prosecutors have absolute immunity from liability for their actions in initiating prosecutions, Imbler v. Pachtman, supra.

The central focus of our analysis has been the nature of the judicial proceeding itself. Thus, in his opinion concurring in the judgment in Imbler v. Pachtman, supra, JUSTICE WHITE explained that the absolute immunity of public prosecutors was “based on the policy of protecting the judicial process.”

Page 460 U. S. 335

424 U.S. at 424 U. S. 439. He explained that this protection extended equally to other participants, including counsel and witnesses.

“The reasons for this rule are also substantial. It is precisely the function of a judicial proceeding to determine where the truth lies. The ability of courts, under carefully developed procedures, to separate truth from falsity, and the importance of accurately resolving factual disputes in criminal (and civil) cases are such that those involved in judicial proceedings should be ‘given every encouragement to make a full disclosure of all pertinent information within their knowledge.'”

Ibid.

The common law’s protection for judges and prosecutors formed part of a “cluster of immunities protecting the various participants in judge-supervised trials,” which stemmed “from the characteristics of the judicial process.” Butz v. Economou, 438 U. S. 478, 438 U. S. 512 (1978); cf. King v. Skinner, Lofft 54, 56, 98 Eng.Rep. 529 (K. B. 1772) (“[N]either party, witness, counsel, jury, or judge can be put to answer, civilly or criminally, for words spoken in office”). The common law recognized that “controversies sufficiently intense to erupt in litigation are not easily capped by a judicial decree. The loser in one forum will frequently seek another. . . . Absolute immunity is thus necessary to assure that judges, advocates, and witnesses can perform their respective functions without harassment or intimidation.”

Butz, supra, at 438 U. S. 512.

In short, the common law provided absolute immunity from subsequent damages liability for all persons — governmental or otherwise — who were integral parts of the judicial process. It is equally clear that § 1983 does not authorize a damages claim against private witnesses, on the one hand, or against judges or prosecutors in the performance of their respective duties, on the other. When a police officer appears as a witness, he may reasonably be viewed as acting like any

Page 460 U. S. 336 other witness sworn to tell the truth — in which event, he can make a strong claim to witness immunity; [Footnote 15] alternatively, he may be regarded as an official performing a critical role in the judicial process, in which event he may seek the benefit afforded to other governmental participants in the same proceeding. Nothing in the language of the statute suggests that such a witness belongs in a narrow, special category lacking protection against damages suits. We must ask, however, whether anything in the legislative history of § 1983 points to a different conclusion.

III

Petitioners point to a number of references throughout the debates on the 1871 Act to widespread perjury by Ku Klux Klan witnesses in state criminal trials. [Footnote 16] They urge that, because perjury was one of the specific evils with which Congress was concerned, recognizing an absolute immunity for witnesses would conflict with congressional intent. We find this argument unpersuasive. The Act consisted of several sections establishing different remedies for disorder and violence in the Southern States. [Footnote 17] The legislative history and statutory language indicate that Congress intended perjury

Page 460 U. S. 337 leading to unjust acquittals of Klan conspirators to be prohibited by § 2, the civil and criminal conspiracy section of the statute, now codified in relevant part at 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (1976 ed., Supp. V) and 18 U.S.C. § 241. But the language of § 1 — now codified as § 1983 — differs from that of § 2 in essential respects, and we find no evidence that Congress intended to abrogate the traditional common law witness immunity in § 1983 actions.

The Ku Klux Act, 17 Stat. 13, was enacted on April 20, 1871, less than a month after President Grant sent a dramatic message to Congress describing the breakdown of law and order in the Southern States. Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 236, 244 (1871). During the debates, supporters of the bill repeatedly described the reign of terror imposed by the Klan upon black citizens and their white sympathizers in the Southern States. Hours of oratory were devoted to the details of Klan outrages — arson, robbery, whippings, shootings, murders, and other forms of violence and intimidation — often committed in disguise and under cover of night. These acts of lawlessness went unpunished, legislators asserted, because Klan members and sympathizers controlled or influenced the administration of state criminal justice. In particular, it was alleged that Klan members were obligated, by virtue of membership in the organization, to protect fellow members who were charged with criminal activity. They had a duty to offer themselves for service on grand and petit juries, and to violate their jurors’ oaths by refusing to indict or to convict regardless of the strength of the evidence. They also were bound to appear as witnesses, and again to violate their oaths by committing perjury, if necessary, to exculpate their Klan colleagues. [Footnote 18] Perjury was thus one of the

Page 460 U. S. 338

means by which the Klan prevented state courts from gaining convictions of Klan members for crimes against blacks and Republicans.

It is clear from the legislative debates that, in the view of the Act’s sponsors, the victims of Klan outrages were deprived of “equal protection of the laws” if the perpetrators systematically went unpunished. [Footnote 19] Proponents of the measure repeatedly argued that, given the ineffectiveness of state law enforcement and the individual’s federal right to “equal protection of the laws,” an independent federal remedy was necessary and Congress had the power to provide it. [Footnote 20] See Monroe v. Pape, 365 U. S. 167, 365 U. S. 174 (1961).

Section 2 was designed specifically to provide criminal and civil remedies in federal court for the conspiratorial activities of the Klan. Indeed, the provision singles out those who “go in disguise upon the public highway.” Earlier versions of the section enumerated precisely the activities that had been attributed to the Klan — murder, manslaughter, mayhem, robbery, assault and battery, perjury, subornation of perjury, criminal obstruction of legal process or resistance of officers

Page 460 U. S. 339

in discharge of official duty, arson, or larceny. Cong.Globe, supra, at 317. The more general language in the final version of § 2 was also intended to apply to the abuses that had been described repeatedly in congressional debate. [Footnote 21] Part of the provision is particularly well tailored to reach conspiracies to commit perjury in order to prevent punishment of fellow Klansmen. It provides penalties whenever two or more persons shall

“conspire together . . . for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State from giving or securing to all persons within such State the equal protection of the laws, or shall conspire together for the purpose of in any manner impeding, hindering, obstructing, or defeating the due course of justice in any State or Territory, with intent to deny to any citizen of the United States the due and equal protection of the laws. . . . [Footnote 22]”

This evidence does not, however, tend to show that Congress intended to abrogate witness immunity in civil actions under § 1, which applied to wrongs committed “under color of . . . law.” The bill’s proponents were exclusively concerned with perjury resulting in unjust acquittals — perjury likely to be committed by private parties acting in furtherance of a conspiracy — and not with perjury committed “under color of

Page 460 U. S. 340

law” that might lead to unjust convictions. In hundreds of pages of debate, there is no reference to the type of alleged constitutional deprivation at issue in this case: perjury by a government official leading to an unjust conviction. Indeed, the legislative history is virtually silent even with regard to perjury by private persons leading to convictions of innocent defendants. [Footnote 23] There is a simple enough reason for this lacuna: the Klan had other, more direct, means of dealing with its victims. A “reign of terrorism and bloodshed” did not require the formal processes of law; at most, drumhead tribunals were convened at dead of night. [Footnote 24] Even when the organization’s intended victims had been taken into custody and charged with crimes, the evidence before Congress suggested that the Klan resorted to vigilante justice, rather than courtroom perjury. [Footnote 25]

In summary, the legislative history supports criminal punishment under § 2 for a witness who conspired to give perjured testimony favorable to a defendant, with the effect of preventing effective enforcement of the laws, and liability in a civil suit against the perjured witness by the defendant’s victim. But these are not the issues before us today. We are asked to extrapolate from pro-defendant perjury to pro-prosecution perjury, and if willing to make that step, we are further invited to apply legislative history relating to § 2 — a section specifically directed toward private conspiracies — to § 1 — a section designed to provide remedies for abuses under

Page 460 U. S. 341

color of law. We decline the invitation. The debates of the 42d Congress do not support petitioners’ contention that Congress intended to provide a § 1 damages remedy against police officers or any other witnesses. [Footnote 26]

IV

Petitioners, finally, urge that we should carve out an exception to the general rule of immunity in cases of alleged perjury by police officer witnesses. [Footnote 27] They assert that the reasons supporting common law immunity — the need to

Page 460 U. S. 342

avoid intimidation and self-censorship — apply with diminished force to police officers. Policemen often have a duty to testify about the products of their investigations, and they have a professional interest in obtaining convictions which would assertedly counterbalance any tendency to shade testimony in favor of potentially vindictive defendants. In addition, they are subject to § 1983 lawsuits for the performance of their other duties, as to which they have only qualified immunity, and their defense is generally undertaken by their governmental employers. Further, petitioners urge that perjured testimony by police officers is likely to be more damaging to constitutional rights than such testimony by ordinary citizens, because the policeman in uniform carries special credibility in the eyes of jurors. And, in the case of police officers, who cooperate regularly with prosecutors in the enforcement of criminal law, prosecution for perjury is alleged to be so unlikely that it is not an effective substitute for civil damages.

These contentions have some force. But our cases clearly indicate that immunity analysis rests on functional categories, not on the status of the defendant. [Footnote 28] A police officer on the witness stand performs the same functions as any other witness; he is subject to compulsory process, takes an oath, responds to questions on direct examination and cross-examination, and may be prosecuted subsequently for perjury.

Moreover, to the extent that traditional reasons for witness immunity are less applicable to governmental witnesses,

Page 460 U. S. 343

Moreover, to the extent that traditional reasons for witness immunity are less applicable to governmental witnesses,

Page 460 U. S. 343

other considerations of public policy support absolute immunity more emphatically for such persons than for ordinary witnesses. Subjecting government officials, such as police officers, to damages liability under § 1983 for their testimony might undermine not only their contribution to the judicial process, but also the effective performance of their other public duties.

Section 1983 lawsuits against police officer witnesses, like lawsuits against prosecutors, “could be expected with some frequency.” Cf. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. at 424 U. S. 425. Police officers testify in scores of cases every year, and defendants often will transform resentment at being convicted into allegations of perjury by the State’s official witnesses. As the files in this case show, even the processing of a complaint that is dismissed before trial consumes a considerable amount of time and resources. [Footnote 29]

This category of § 1983 litigation might well impose significant burdens on the judicial system and on law enforcement resources. As this Court noted when it recognized absolute immunity for prosecutors in Imbler, if the defendant official

“could be made to answer in court each time [a disgruntled defendant] charged him with wrongdoing, his energy and attention

Page 460 U. S. 344

would be diverted from the pressing duty of enforcing the criminal law.”

424 U.S. at 424 U. S. 425. To some degree, the individual’s burden might be alleviated by the government’s provision of counsel, but a case that goes to trial always imposes significant emotional and other costs on every party litigant.

It is not sufficient to assert that the burdens on defendants and the courts could be alleviated by limiting the cause of action to those former criminal defendants who have already vindicated themselves in another forum, either on appeal or by collateral attack. We rejected a similar contention in Imbler. Petitioner contended that

“his suit should be allowed, even if others would not be, because the District Court’s issuance of the writ of habeas corpus shows that his suit has substance.”

Id. at 424 U. S. 428, n. 27. We declined to carve out such an exception to prosecutorial immunity, noting that petitioner’s success in a collateral proceeding did not necessarily establish the merits of his civil rights action. Moreover, we noted that

“using the habeas proceeding as a ‘door-opener’ for a subsequent civil rights action would create the risk of injecting extraneous concerns into that proceeding.”

Ibid. We emphasized that, in determining whether to grant post conviction relief, the tribunal should focus solely on whether there was a fair trial under law.

“This focus should not be blurred by even the subconscious knowledge that a post-trial decision in favor of the accused might result in the prosecutor’s being called upon to respond in damages for his error or mistaken judgment.”

Id. at 424 U. S. 427. The same danger exists in the case of potential liability for police officer witnesses. [Footnote 30]

Page 460 U. S. 345

There is, of course, the possibility that, despite the truth finding safeguards of the judicial process, some defendants might indeed be unjustly convicted on the basis of knowingly false testimony by police officers. [Footnote 31] The absolute immunity for prosecutors recognized in Imbler bars one possible avenue of redress for such defendants. Similarly, in this case, the absolute witness immunity bars another possible path to recovery for these defendants. But we have recognized, again and again, that in some situations, the alternative of limiting the official’s immunity would disserve the broader public interest. As Judge Learned Hand wrote years ago:

“As is so often the case, the answer must be found in a balance between the evils inevitable in either alternative. In this instance, it has been thought in the end better to leave unredressed the wrongs done by dishonest officers than to subject those who try to do their duty to the constant dread of retaliation.”

Gregoire v. Biddle, 177 F.2d 579, 581 (CA2 1949), cert. denied, 339 U.S. 949 (1950). [Footnote 32]

In short, the rationale of our prior absolute immunity cases governs the disposition of this case. In 1871, common law immunity for witnesses was well settled. The principles set forth in Pierson v. Ray to protect judges and in Imbler v. Pachtman to protect prosecutors also apply to witnesses, who perform a somewhat different function in the trial process, but whose participation in bringing the litigation to a

Page 460 U. S. 346

just — or possibly unjust — conclusion is equally indispensable.

The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

It is so ordered.

[Footnote 1]
Bug bug
The Court has held that the prosecutor’s knowing use of perjured testimony violates due process, but has not held that the false testimony of a police officer, in itself, violates constitutional rights. See United States v. Agurs, 427 U. S. 97, 427 U. S. 103, and nn. 8, 9 (1976) (citing cases).

[Footnote 2]

At the time of the Court of Appeals’ decision, petitioner Briscoe’s conviction had been set aside by the Indiana Court of Appeals on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to prove Briscoe’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The opinion did not question the veracity of LaHue’s testimony, but found that the State’s evidence, including testimony that Briscoe was one of 50 to 100 persons who might have robbed the trailer, did not meet the State’s burden of proof. Briscoe v. State, 180 Ind.App. 450, 460, 388 N.E.2d 638, 644 (1979). Petitioners Vickers and Ballard were still serving their sentences when the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of their complaint.

[Footnote 3]

On review of pretrial orders dismissing petitioners’ complaints, the Court of Appeals assumed that the complaints’ factual allegations of perjury were true. It also assumed that petitioners had alleged a constitutional violation — that they had been deprived of their liberty without due process of law by respondents’ perjury in the judicial proceedings that resulted in their convictions. Because we granted certiorari to review the Court of Appeals’ holding, we make the same assumptions for purposes of deciding this case, without implying that they are valid. In light of its resolution of the immunity question the Court of Appeals did not determine whether the respondents had acted “under color of law,” though it suggested that it might have answered in the affirmative. 663 F.2d at 721, n. 4.

[Footnote 4]

A rule of absolute witness immunity has been adopted by the majority of Courts of Appeals. Brawer v. Horowitz, 535 F.2d 830, 836-837 (CA3 1976) (lay witness in federal court; Bivens action); Burke v. Miller, 580 F.2d 108 (CA4 1978) (state medical examiner; § 1983 action), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 930 (1979); Charles v. Wade, 665 F.2d 661 (CA5 1982) (police officer victim; § 1983 suit), cert. pending, No. 81-1881; Myers v. Bull, 599 F.2d 863, 866 (CA8) (police officer witness; § 1983 suit), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 901 (1979); Blevins v. Ford, 572 F.2d 1336 (CA9 1978) (private witnesses and former Assistant U.S. Attorney; action under § 1983 and the Fifth Amendment). But see Briggs v. Goodwin, 186 U.S.App.D.C. 179, 569 F.2d 10 (1977) (dicta rejecting absolute immunity for government official witness; Bivens action), cert. denied, 437 U.S. 904 (1978); Hilliard v. Williams, 516 F.2d 1344, 1350 (CA6 1975) (rejecting absolute immunity for agent of state bureau of investigation; § 1983 action), cert. denied sub nom. Clark v. Hilliard, 423 U.S. 1066 (1976).

[Footnote 5]

The petition for writ of certiorari presents the following question:

“Whether a police officer who commits perjury during a state court criminal trial should be granted absolute immunity from civil liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”

Pet. for Cert. i. The petition does not raise the question of immunity for testimony at pretrial proceedings such as probable cause hearings, nor does petitioners’ brief discuss whether the same immunity considerations that apply to trial testimony also apply to testimony at probable cause hearings. We therefore do not decide whether respondent LaHue is entitled to absolute immunity for allegedly false testimony at two probable cause hearings regarding petitioner Briscoe.

[Footnote 6]

Thus, even though the defective performance of defense counsel may cause the trial process to deprive an accused person of his liberty in an unconstitutional manner, Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U. S. 335, 446 U. S. 342-345 (1980), the lawyer who may be responsible for the unconstitutional state action does not himself act under color of state law within the meaning of § 1983. Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U. S. 312 (1981). This conclusion is compelled by the character of the office performed by defense counsel. See id. at 454 U. S. 317-319; Ferri v. Ackerman, 444 U. S. 193, 444 U. S. 204 (1979). It is equally clear that the office of the lay witness who merely discharges his duty to testify truthfully is not performed under color of law within the meaning of § 1983.

[Footnote 7] bug

It is conceivable, however, that nongovernmental witnesses could act “under color of law” by conspiring with the prosecutor or other state officials. See Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U. S. 24, 449 U. S. 27-29 (1980); Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U. S. 144, 398 U. S. 152 (1970). It is therefore necessary to go beyond the “color of law” analysis to consider whether private witnesses may ever be held liable for damages under § 1983.

[Footnote 8]

Nor is this the only piece of 19th-century legislation in which the word “every” may not be given a literal reading. See National Society of Professional Engineers v. United States, 435 U. S. 679, 435 U. S. 687-688 (1978).

[Footnote 9]

The availability of a common law action for false accusations of crime see post at 460 U. S. 350-351, is inapposite because petitioners present only the question of § 1983 liability for false testimony during a state court criminal trial. See n 5, supra.

[Footnote 10]

“We have therefore a large collection of cases where from time to time parties have attempted to get damages in cases like the present, but in no one instance has the action ever been held to be maintainable. If for centuries many persons have attempted to get a remedy for injuries like the present, and there is an entire absence of authority that such remedy exists, it shews the unanimous opinion of those who have held the place which we do now that such an action is not maintainable.”

Henderson v. Broomhead, 4 H. & N. at 578, 157 Eng.Rep. at 968.

[Footnote 11]

See generally M. Newell, Law of Defamation, Libel and Slander 425, 450-459 (1890); J. Townshend, A Treatise on the Wrongs Called Slander and Libel 353-354 (2d ed. 1872). See, e.g., Lawson v. Hicks, 38 Ala. 279, 285-288 (1862); Myers v. Hodges, 53 Fla.197, 208-210, 44 So. 357, 361 (1907); Smith v. Howard, 28 Iowa 51, 56-57 (1869); Gardemal v. McWilliams, 43 La.Ann. 454, 457-458, 9 So. 106, 108 (1891); Burke v. Ryan, 36 La.Ann. 951, 951-952 (1884); McLaughlin v. Cowley, 127 Mass. 316, 319-320 (1879); Barnes v. McCrate, 32 Me. 442, 446-447 (1851); Cooper v. Phipps, 24 Ore. 357, 363-364, 33 P. 985, 986-987 (1893); Shadden v. McElwee, 86 Tenn. 146, 149-154, 5 S.W. 602, 603-605 (1887); Cooley v. Galyon, 109 Tenn. 1, 13-14, 70 S.W. 607, 610 (1902); cf. Hoar v. Wood, 44 Mass.193, 197-198 (1841) (statements by counsel); Marsh v. Ellsworth, 50 N.Y. 309, 312-313 (1872) (same). Other courts appear to have taken a position closer to the English rule, which did not require any showing of pertinency or materiality. See, e.g., Chambliss v. Blau, 127 Ala. 86, 89-90, 28 So. 602, 603 (1899); cf. Calkins v. Sumner, 13 Wis.193, 197-198 (1860) (in absence of objection and ruling by court, lack of pertinency of responses to questions does not remove immunity, because witnesses are not in a position to know what statements are pertinent to the case).

Although some cases used the words “good faith,” see, e.g., White v. Carroll, 42 N.Y. 161, 166 (1870); Shadden v. McElwee, supra, at 149-150, 5 S.W. at 603, good faith was established as a matter of law if the statements were pertinent and material to the judicial proceeding and given in response to questions. Indeed, even if the testimony was not pertinent, the plaintiff had the burden of proving bad faith. The testimony by respondents in this case would have received absolute protection at common law, because it was directly relevant to the criminal charges against petitioners. If the testimony had not been relevant, it is unlikely that petitioners would have stated a claim that their constitutional rights had been violated. Therefore, for purposes of § 1983 analysis, there is no material difference between the English rule and the American rule.

[Footnote 12]

JUSTICE MARSHALL’s dissent relies heavily on an opinion rendered by this Court, White v. Nicholls, 3 How. 266, 44 U. S. 286-288 (1845). The Court’s discussion of privileged statements in judicial proceedings was purely dictum. The plaintiff sought damages for defendants’ allegedly defamatory assertions in a petition to the President of the United States requesting the plaintiff’s removal from office as a customs collector, a statement entitled, at most, to a qualified privilege. White v. Nicholls cannot be considered authoritative. In 1909, a leading commentator stated:

“[T]he demands of public policy on which the rule [of absolute immunity] is based are so controlling that there is only one considered case in the English or American reports in which the existence of the general doctrine of absolute immunity under the common law has ever been questioned. Strangely enough, this isolated instance was a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the course of which Mr. Justice Daniel, speaking for the court, denied both the rule and its policy; but this expression of opinion was obiter, since the case in issue was one of qualified immunity.”

Veeder, Absolute Immunity in Defamation: Judicial Proceedings, 9 Colum.L.Rev. 463, 465-466 (footnotes omitted). In 1860, a New York court asserted that

“the reasoning of Judge Daniel’s opinion, and the propositions which he deduces where he goes beyond the case in hand, are clearly unsustained by principle or authority.”

Perkins v. Mitchell, 31 Barb. 461, 468 (N.Y.Sup.Ct.). In 1878, the West Virginia Supreme Court severely criticized White v. Nicholls, stating:

“We have reviewed all the authorities cited by Justice Daniel, and have seen that none of them are in conflict with the position that express malice may be shielded by its being expressed in judicial proceedings in certain forms. . . . And the review of the American authorities will show that the overwhelming weight of authority is opposed to Justice Daniel’s idea, that there is no case in which an action of slander or libel will not lie for libelous matter spoken or written in the course of regular judicial proceedings. . . . The authorities, both English and American, fully establish the position that there is a class of absolutely privileged communications. . . .”

Johnson v. Brown, 13 W.Va. 71, 128-129. See also McGehee v. Insurance Co. of North America, 112 F. 853 (CA5 1902) (declining to follow White v. Nicholls); Shelfer v. Gooding, 47 N.C. 175, 181-182 (1855) (suggesting that Justice Daniel miscited Hodgson v. Scarlett, 1 Barn. & Ald. 232, 106 Eng.Rep. 86 (K.B. 1818)). In short, White v. Nicholls was not even a reliable statement of the common law; still less was it “the most salient feature in the landscape of the common law at the time Congress acted” in 1871.

[Footnote 13]

In addition, some courts expressed concern that, in the absence of a privilege, honest witnesses might erroneously be subjected to liability because they would have difficulty proving the truth of their statements. This result seemed inappropriate in light of the witness’ duty to testify. E.g., Calkins v. Sumner, 13 Wis. at 198; Barnes v. McCrate, 32 Me. at 446-447; Chambliss v. Blau, 127 Ala. at 89, 28 So. at 603.

[Footnote 14]

Cf. Marsh v. Ellsworth, 50 N.Y. at 312 (importance of placing all relevant evidence before court and jury “to enable them to arrive at the truth”); Hoar v. Wood, 44 Mass. at 197 (stressing impartiality of judge as sufficient antidote to inaccuracies and exaggerations by adversaries).

[Footnote 15]

The common law immunity that protected witnesses as well as other participants in the judicial process drew no distinction between public officials and private citizens. See Veeder, supra, n 12, at 468-469. The general purposes underlying witness immunity at common law applied equally to official and private witnesses. Both types of witness took the stand and testified under oath in response to the questions of counsel. Both might be deterred by the prospect of subsequent, vexatious litigation.

[Footnote 16]

Brief for Petitioners 19-20, citing 1 B. Schwartz, Statutory History of the United States: Civil Rights 599-606, 625 (1970).

[Footnote 17]

In addition to § 1, codified as § 1983, and § 2, discussed in text infra, the Act permitted the President to use armed force in response to insurrection and domestic violence (§ 3), authorized the suspension of habeas corpus if the President deemed it necessary (§ 4), required grand and petit jurors to take a test oath (§ 5), and provided a civil penalty against persons who knew of and failed to prevent § 2 violations. 17 Stat. 13.

[Footnote 18]

Supporters of the bill repeatedly quoted the testimony before an investigating committee of two former Klan members, who described a Klan oath binding its members to commit perjury. Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 152, 158, 173, 201, 320-321, 322, 340, 437, 439, 443-444, 457, 458, 503, 516, 518, 653, 654, 687 (1871).

[Footnote 19]
See id. at 322 (remarks of Rep. Stoughton); 334 (remarks of Rep. Hoar); 375 (remarks of Rep. Lowe); 428 (remarks of Rep. Beatty); 458, 459 (remarks of Rep. Coburn); 481-482 (remarks of Rep. Wilson); 486 (remarks of Rep. Cook); 501 (remarks of Sen. Frelinghuysen); 506 (remarks of Sen. Pratt); 608 (remarks of Sen. Pool); 697 (remarks of Sen. Edmunds).

[Footnote 20]

As Representative Coburn stated:

“The United States courts are further above mere local influence than the county courts; their judges can act with more independence, cannot be put under terror, as local judges can; their sympathies are not so nearly identified with those of the vicinage; the jurors are taken from the State, and not the neighborhood; they will be able to rise above prejudices and bad passions or terror more easily. The marshal, clothed with more power than the sheriff, can make arrests with certainty, and, with the aid of the General Government, can seize offenders in spite of any banded and combined resistance such as may be expected.”

Id. at 460. See id. at 334 (remarks of Rep. Hoar); 374 (remarks of Rep. Lowe); 428 (remarks of Rep. Beatty); 459-460 (remarks of Rep. Coburn); 486 (remarks of Rep. Cook); 501 (remarks of Sen. Frelinghuysen); 514 (remarks of Rep. Poland).

[Footnote 21]

Compare id. at 317 (original version introduced by Rep. Shellabarger) with id. at 477-478 (more general language in amended version); see id. at 567, 702 (Senate amendment adding language punishing conspiracy for obstructing the due course of justice).

[Footnote 22]

It is noteworthy that the imposition of criminal liability on persons for conspiracy to give false evidence was not in derogation of the common law as it existed in 1871. Witnesses were traditionally subject to a prosecution for perjury committed in the course of their evidence, “or for conspiracy in case of a combination of two or more to give false evidence.” Newell, supra, n. 11, at 450, § 44. The offense of perjury had been shaped in English law during the 16th and 17th centuries by Parliament, the Court of Star Chamber, and common law judges. 4 W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law 515-519 (1924); S. Milsom, Historical Foundations of the Common Law 418 (2d ed.1981).

[Footnote 23]

In several hundred pages of small triple-columned print, only one Senator — not a member of the Committee that reported the bill — referred to the possibility that perjury was being used to convict the innocent. See Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 653 (1871) (remarks of Sen. Osborn). His comments were made in connection with a proposal to retain a test oath for grand and petit jurors.

[Footnote 24]

The debates describe nocturnal Klan meetings passing decrees condemning political enemies. See id. at 157, 209, 320, 321, 504.

[Footnote 25]

For references to lynch mobs attacking suspects held in custody, see id. at 156, 157, 166, 200, 321, 444, 446, 447.

[Footnote 26]

The legislative history of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, discussed at length by JUSTICE MARSHALL’s dissent, simply does not speak to the question whether Congress intended witnesses — private parties or public officials — to be civilly liable for false testimony resulting in an unjust criminal conviction. It makes clear that judges and other “state officials integral to the judicial process” are subject to criminal liability for violating the constitutional rights of individuals. But we have never questioned that proposition, and we do not do so now. Moreover, witnesses enjoyed no common law immunity from criminal prosecution for perjury. See n. 22 supra. Therefore, the criminal provisions of the 1866 Act and its successors apply to official witnesses. See n 32, infra. But the 1866 legislative history, to the extent that it sheds any light on the meaning of the 1871 Act, does not support civil liability for such witnesses, because it does not show the requisite congressional intent to override the clearly established common law immunity of witnesses from civil liability. With respect to witnesses, the legislative history of the 1866 Act is simply silent, and we are unwilling to assume that, whenever legislators referred to “state judicial officials” or to “the judicial power of the State,” they were describing witnesses as well as judges, sheriffs, and marshals.

Moreover, our decisions recognizing absolute immunity for judges and prosecutors from civil liability under the 1871 Act implicitly reject the position that the legislative history of the 1866 Act defines the scope of immunity for purposes of the 1871 Act. See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U. S. 547 (1967); Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409 (1976).

[Footnote 27]

The contours of the proposed exception are not clear. Similar considerations would presumably apply to other government officials and experts, including coroners, medical examiners, psychiatric experts, and social workers.

[Footnote 28] bug

See Butz v. Economou, 438 U. S. 478, 438 U. S. 513-514 (1978) (administrative law judges enjoy absolute judicial immunity even though they are in the Executive Branch); Imbler v. Pachtman, supra, at 424 U. S. 430-431 (reserving the question whether a prosecutor, who is absolutely immune for decisions to initiate a prosecution or put witnesses on the stand, has similar immunity for administrative or investigative tasks); cf. Hampton v. City of Chicago, 484 F.2d 602, 608 (CA7 1973) (prosecutor’s immunity ceases when he acts in a capacity other than his quasijudicial role), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 917 (1974).

[Footnote 29]

Moreover, lawsuits alleging perjury on the stand in violation of the defendant’s due process rights often raise material questions of fact, inappropriate for disposition at the summary judgment stage. The plaintiff’s complaint puts in issue the falsity and materiality of the allegedly perjured statements, and the defendant witness’ knowledge and state of mind at the time he testified. Sometimes collateral estoppel principles will permit dismissal at the pretrial stage. But if the truth of the allegedly perjured statement was not necessarily decided in the previous criminal verdict, if there is newly discovered evidence of falsity, or if the defendant concedes that the testimony was inaccurate, the central issue will be the defendant’s state of mind. Summary judgment is usually not feasible under these circumstances. C. Wright, Law of Federal Courts 493 (3d ed.1976). If summary judgment is denied, the case must proceed to trial, and must traverse much of the same ground as the original criminal trial.

[Footnote 30]

We are not writing on a clean slate, and it is not for us to craft a new rule designed to enable trial judges to dismiss meritless claims before trial, but to allow recovery in cases of demonstrated injustice, when an innocent plaintiff has already obtained postconviction relief. The States remain free to grant relief in such cases and, of course, Congress has the power to fashion an appropriate remedy if it perceives the need for one.

[Footnote 31]

There is no reason to believe, however, that this risk is any greater than, or indeed as great as, the risk of an unjust conviction resulting from a misidentification or other unintentional mistake. There is no federal damages remedy for such innocent persons, or for those who are acquitted after undergoing the burdens of a criminal trial.

[Footnote 32]

Finally, in those cases in which the judicial process fails, the public is not powerless to punish misconduct. Like prosecutors and judges, official witnesses may be punished criminally for willful deprivations of constitutional rights under 18 U.S.C. § 242.

JUSTICE BRENNAN, dissenting.

JUSTICE MARSHALL’s dissenting opinion, post, presents an eloquent argument that Congress, in enacting § 1983, did not intend to create any absolute immunity from civil liability for “government officials involved in the judicial process. . . .” Post at this page and 460 U. S. 347. Whatever the correctness of his historical argument, I fear that the Court has already crossed that bridge in Pierson v. Ray, 386 U. S. 547 (1967), and Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409 (1976).

I entirely agree with JUSTICE MARSHALL, however, that the policies of § 1983 and of common law witness immunity, as they apply to witnesses who are police officers, do not justify any absolute immunity for perjurious testimony. I therefore dissent for the reasons stated in 460 U. S.

JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom JUSTICE BLACKMUN joins, except as to Part I, dissenting.

I cannot agree that police officers are absolutely immune from civil liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1976 ed., Supp. V) for testimony given in criminal proceedings. The extension of absolute immunity conflicts fundamentally with the language and purpose of the statute. I would therefore be reluctant in any case to conclude that § 1983 incorporates common law tort immunities that may have existed when Congress enacted the statute in 1871. But in this case, the conclusion is especially unjustified. First, absolute immunity for witnesses was by no means a settled legal proposition in 1871. Most notably, in 1845, this Court had cast serious doubt on the existence of absolute immunity for testimony given in judicial proceedings. Second, the origins and history of § 1983 strongly suggest that Congress meant to abrogate any absolute immunity for government officials involved

Page 460 U. S. 347

in the judicial process, including police officers. Finally, considerations of public policy deemed necessary to justify absolute immunity in our past cases do not support an absolute immunity for officer-witnesses.

I

The majority opinion correctly states that this case presents a question of statutory construction. Ante at 460 U. S. 326. Yet it departs from generally accepted principles for interpreting laws.

In all other matters of statutory construction, this Court begins by focusing on the language of the statute itself. [Footnote 2/1] “Absent a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive.” Consumer Product Safety Comm’n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U. S. 102, 447 U. S. 108 (1980). The language of § 1983 provides unambiguous guidance in this case. A witness is most assuredly a “person,” the word Congress employed to describe those whose conduct § 1983 encompasses. [Footnote 2/2] The majority

Page 460 U. S. 348

turns the conventional approach to statutory interpretation on its head. It assumes that common law tort immunities provide an exemption from the plain language of the statute unless petitioners demonstrate that Congress meant to override the immunity. See ante at 460 U. S. 336. Thus, in the absence of a clearly expressed legislative intent to the contrary, the Court simply presumes that Congress did not mean what it said.

Absolute immunity for witnesses conflicts not only with the language of § 1983, but also with its purpose. In enacting § 1983, Congress sought to create a damages action for victims of violations of federal rights; absolute immunity nullifies “pro tanto the very remedy it appears Congress sought to create.” Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409, 424 U. S. 434 (1976) (WHITE, J., concurring in judgment). The words of a statute should always be interpreted to carry out its purpose. [Footnote 2/3] Moreover, Members of the 42d Congress explicitly stated that § 1983 should be read so as to further its broad remedial goals. As the sponsor of the 1871 Act, Representative Shellabarger, declared:

“This act is remedial, and in aid of the preservation of human liberty and human rights. All statutes and constitutional provisions authorizing such statutes are liberally and beneficently construed. It would be most strange and, in civilized law, monstrous were this not the rule of interpretation. As has been again and again decided by your own Supreme Court of the United States, and everywhere else where there is wise judicial

Page 460 U. S. 349

interpretation, the largest latitude consistent with the words employed is uniformly given in construing such statutes and constitutional provisions as are meant to protect and defend and give remedies for their wrongs to all the people.”

Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 68 (1871). [Footnote 2/4]

It might be appropriate to import common law defenses and immunities into the statute if, in enacting § 1983, Congress had merely sought to federalize state tort law. But Congress “intended to give a broad remedy for violations of federally protected civil rights.” Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U. S. 658, 436 U. S. 685 (1978) (emphasis added). Different considerations surely apply when a suit is based on a federally guaranteed right — in this case, the constitutional right to due process of law — rather than the common law. [Footnote 2/5] The Congress that enacted § 1983 had concluded that

“a deprivation of a constitutional right is significantly different from, and more serious than, a violation of a state right, and therefore deserves a different remedy, even though

Page 460 U. S. 350

the same act may constitute both a state tort and the deprivation of a constitutional right.”

Monroe v. Pape, 365 U. S. 167, 365 U. S. 196 (1961) (Harlan, J., concurring). Therefore, immunities that arose in the context of tort actions against private parties provide little guidance for actions against state officials for constitutional violations.

“It would indeed be the purest coincidence if the state remedies for violations of common law rights by private citizens were fully appropriate to redress those injuries which only a state official can cause and against which the Constitution provides protection.”

Id. at 196, n. 5.

Given the language and purpose of § 1983, I have serious doubts about any further extension of absolute immunity to state officials in actions under § 1983. At a minimum, I do not believe the Court should extend absolute immunity to state officials “in the absence of the most convincing showing that the immunity is necessary.” Imbler v. Pachtman, supra, at 424 U. S. 434 (WHITE, J., concurring in judgment). For the reasons elaborated below, I believe that the case for absolute witness immunity is far from convincing.

II

The majority’s decision is predicated on its conclusion that “[i]n 1871, common law immunity for witnesses was well settled.” Ante at 460 U. S. 345. I disagree with this view of the law as it stood when Congress enacted § 1983.

To begin with, some of petitioners’ allegations would clearly not have been barred by doctrines of immunity at common law. The majority discusses only the immunities associated with actions for defamation at common law. Ante at 460 U. S. 330-331, n. 9. However, petitioner Briscoe did not allege solely that Officer LaHue had testified falsely at his trial, a claim resembling one for defamation. He also alleged that Officer LaHue had made knowingly false charges at two probable cause hearings, one of which resulted in Briscoe’s arrest. [Footnote 2/6] At common law, such an allegation would have

Page 460 U. S. 351

formed the basis of an action on the case for malicious prosecution, [Footnote 2/7] or the related action known by its Latin name, crimen feloniae imposuit (imputing the crime of felony). [Footnote 2/8] Both English and American courts routinely permitted plaintiffs to bring actions alleging that the defendant had made a false and malicious accusation of a felony to a magistrate or other judicial officer. [Footnote 2/9] No immunity barred these suits. Indeed, an absolute immunity would have been illogical, for it would have allowed a defendant to avoid the related common law action for false imprisonment by the simple expedient of proffering false charges before a magistrate, and thereby securing an arrest warrant. [Footnote 2/10]

Page 460 U. S. 352

Even with respect to the common law action for defamation which the majority discusses, I cannot agree that an absolute immunity for witnesses was well-settled law in 1871. In 1845, this Court had rejected both the rule of absolute immunity

Page 460 U. S. 353

and its logical underpinnings, proposing instead that a plaintiff allege and prove malice in the case of privileged communications.

In White v. Nicholls, 3 How. 266 (1845), Justice Daniel wrote for a unanimous Court in dicta a veritable treatise on the law of defamation and privileged communications. [Footnote 2/11] The Court began by noting the existence of various exceptions

“which, in the elementary treatises, and in the decisions upon libel and slander, have been denominated privileged communications or publications.”

Id. at 44 U. S. 286. One of these “exceptions” was for “[w]ords used in the course of a legal or judicial proceeding, however hard they may bear upon the party of whom they are used.” Id. at 44 U. S. 287. The Court then stated:

“But the term ‘exceptions,’ as applied to cases like those just enumerated, could never be interpreted to mean that there is a class of actors or transactions placed above the cognisance of the law, absolved from the commands of justice. It is difficult to conceive how, in society where rights and duties are relative and mutual, there can be tolerated those who are privileged to do injury legibus soluti, and still more difficult to imagine how such a privilege could be instituted or tolerated upon the principles of social good. The privilege spoken of in the books should, in our opinion, be taken with strong and well-defined qualifications. It properly signifies this, and nothing more. That the excepted instances shall so far change the ordinary rule with respect to slanderous or libelous matter as to remove the regular and usual presumption of malice, and to make it incumbent on the party complaining to show malice, either by the construction of the spoken or written matter, or by the facts and circumstances connected with that matter, or with the situation of the parties, adequate to authorize the conclusion.”

Ibid. (emphasis added).

Page 460 U. S. 354

The Court invoked these principles in discussing the specific exception for words used in a judicial proceeding, relying on the views of one English judge who had rejected absolute immunity. [Footnote 2/12]

“With respect to words used in a course of judicial proceeding, it has been ruled that they are protected by the occasion, and cannot form the foundation of an action of slander without proof of express malice; . . . in the case of Hodgson v. Scarlett, 1 Barn. & Ald. 247, it is said by Holroyd, J., speaking of the words of counsel in the argument of a cause,”

“If they be fair comments upon the evidence, and relevant to the matter in issue, then unless malice be shown, the occasion justifies them. If, however, it be proved that they were not spoken bona fide, or express malice be shown, then they may be actionable.”

Id. at 288 (emphasis added). [Footnote 2/13]

If Congress in 1871 actually examined the subject of common law witness immunity, it could hardly have overlooked White v. Nicholls, since that case was the sole pronouncement on the subject from the highest Court in the land. Congress might well have concluded — as did the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1871 — that the principles enunciated in White were “settled law.” Saunders v. Baxter, 53 Tenn. 369, 383. In an age when federal common law prevailed, See Swift v. Tyson, 16 Pet. 1 (1842), a Supreme Court decision would have been the natural focus for a Congress establishing a federal remedy which was accompanied by a new grant of federal jurisdiction. [Footnote 2/14] In short, the most salient feature in the

Page 460 U. S. 355

landscape of the common law at the time Congress acted was an opinion rebuffing absolute immunity in favor of a qualified immunity based on the absence of malice. [Footnote 2/15]

Page 460 U. S. 356

III

The majority’s decision is also predicated on its conclusion that there is “no evidence that Congress intended to abrogate the traditional common law witness immunity in § 1983 actions.” Ante at 460 U. S. 337. In fact, there is considerable evidence in the legislative history that Congress did intend to abrogate the immunity of participants in state judicial proceedings.

A

At petitioners’ urging, [Footnote 2/16] the Court has extensively examined the legislative history of § 2 of the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act, 17 Stat. 13, now codified as 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (1976 ed., Supp. V). However, the forerunner of § 1983 was § 1 of the 1871 Act, not § 2. As the majority points out, ante at 460 U. S. 337, 460 U. S. 340-341, the two sections differ significantly in their language and purpose. It is thus hardly surprising that the debates over § 2 shed little light on § 1. In my view, the inquiry should focus on the history of § 1. Only by examining the

Page 460 U. S. 357

genesis of that provision can it be determined whether Congress intended to abrogate certain common law immunities.

The origin of § 1 is not open to serious question. The language and concept of the provision were derived in large part from § 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27. [Footnote 2/17] The author of § 1 clearly stated the relationship between the two Acts in introducing the 1871 measure:

“My first inquiry is as to the warrant which we have for enacting such a section as this [§ 1 of the 1871 Act]. The model for it will be found in the second section of the act of April 9, 1866, known as the ‘civil rights act.’ That section provides a criminal proceeding in identically the same case as this one provides a civil remedy for, except that the deprivation under color of State law must, under the civil rights act, have been on account of race, color, or former slavery. This section of the bill, on the same state of facts, not only provides a civil remedy for

Page 460 U. S. 358

persons whose former condition may have been that of slaves, but also to all people where, under color of State law, they or any of them may be deprived of rights to which they are entitled under the Constitution by reason and virtue of their national citizenship.”

Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 68 (1871) (emphasis added).

Because the two provisions are so intimately connected, a full examination of the history of § 1 of the 1871 Act must begin with § 2 of the 1866 Act.

B

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the first federal statute to provide broad protection in the field of civil rights. Its primary purpose was to guarantee the newly emancipated Negro equality with whites before the law. Section 2 of the Act provided criminal liability for any person who, acting under color of law, deprived another of his rights because of race. This provision was extensively debated. Controversy centered in large part over its intended application to state officials integral to the judicial process.

The liability of state judicial officials and all official participants in state judicial proceedings under § 2 was explicitly and repeatedly affirmed. [Footnote 2/18] The notion of immunity for such officials was thoroughly discredited. The Senate sponsor of

Page 460 U. S. 359

the Act deemed the idea

“akin to the maxim of the English law that the King can do no wrong. It places officials above the law. It is the very doctrine out of which the rebellion [the Civil War] was hatched.”

Cong.Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 1758 (1866) (Sen. Trumbull). Thus, § 2 was “aimed directly at the State judiciary.” Id. at 1155 (Rep. Eldridge). See also id. at 1778 (Sen. Johnson, member of the Senate Judiciary Committee) (§ 2 of the 1866 Act “strikes at the judicial department of the governments of the States”).

Two unsuccessful efforts were made to amend § 2. First, Representative Miller introduced an amendment to exempt state judges from criminal liability. Id. at 1156. Second, and of particular significance, Representative Bingham introduced an amendment to substitute a civil action for the criminal sanctions contained in the proposal. Id. at 1266, 1271-1272. The sponsor of the 1866 Act, Representative Wilson, opposed the amendment largely on the ground that it would place the financial burden of protecting civil rights on poor individuals, instead of on the government. Id. at 1295. At the same time, he stressed that there was “no difference in the principle involved” between a civil remedy and a criminal sanction. Ibid.

After the 1866 bill passed the Senate and House, President Andrew Johnson vetoed it. His opposition was based in part on the fact that § 2 of the bill “invades the judicial power of the State.” Veto Message, in id. at 1680. The President warned that

“judges of the State courts . . . [and] marshals and sheriffs, who should, as ministerial officers, execute processes, sanctioned by State laws and issued by State judges, in execution of their judgments, could be brought before other tribunals and there subjected to fine and imprisonment for the performance of the duties which such state laws might impose.”

Ibid. Within two weeks, both the Senate and the House overrode the veto. Various Congressmen responded to the President’s criticisms, and freely admitted that § 2 of the legislation was aimed at state judicial systems. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative

Page 460 U. S. 360

Lawrence, declared:

“I answer it is better to invade the judicial power of the State than permit it to invade, strike down, and destroy the civil rights of citizens. A judicial power perverted to such uses should be speedily invaded. The grievance would be insignificant.”

Id. at 1837. See also id. at 1758 (response of Sen. Trumbull to President’s veto message); id. at 1838 (statement of Rep. Clarke). The bill became law on April 9, 1866.

C

This Court has, from time to time, read § 1983 against the “background” of common law tort liability. [Footnote 2/19] Far more pertinent to this case, however, is the background provided by the 1866 Civil Rights Act. Representative Bingham, who had introduced the amendment to substitute civil liability for criminal liability in the 1866 Act, had become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee by the time of the 42d Congress. Senator Trumbull, the Senate sponsor of the 1866 Act, was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1871. Representative Shellabarger, who had participated in the debates on the 1866 legislation, [Footnote 2/20] drafted the 1871 Act.

Congress was well aware that the “model” for § 1 of the 1871 law could be found in the 1866 Civil Rights Act. Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 68 (1871) (Rep. Shellabarger). The manager of the bill in the Senate, George Edmunds, stressed that § 1 was merely “carrying out the principles of the civil rights bill” that had been passed in 1866. Id. at 568. Representative Coburn stated that § 1 “gives a civil remedy parallel to the penal provision” in the Civil Rights Act. “If this penal section is valid, and no one dares controvert it, the civil remedy is legal and unquestionable.” Id. at 461. See also id. at 429 (Rep. McHenry in opposition)

Page 460 U. S. 361

(“The first section of the bill is intended as an amendment of the civil rights act”); id. at 365 (Rep. Arthur in opposition) (§ 1 is “cumulative, as far as it goes, with certain provisions in the civil rights bill”).

The fact that § 2 of the Civil Rights Act was the model for § 1 of the 1871 Act explains why the debates in the 42d Congress on § 1 were so perfunctory. [Footnote 2/21] Of all the measures in the Ku Klux Klan Act, § 1 generated the least controversy, since it merely provided a civil counterpart to the far more controversial criminal provision in the 1866 Act. See id. at 568 (Sen. Edmunds) (“The first section is one that I believe nobody objects to”); id. at App. 313 (Rep. Burchard) (“To the first section, giving an injured party redress by suit at law in the United States courts in the cases enumerated, I can see no objections”); Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. at 436 U. S. 665 (debate on § 1 was limited, and the section passed without amendment); Developments in the Law — Section 1983 and Federalism, 90 Harv.L.Rev. 1133, 1155 (1977).

Opponents of § 1 of the 1871 Act repeated the same arguments that had been made against § 2 of the 1866 Act. They warned of the liability for judicial officers that would result from enactment of § 1. [Footnote 2/22] Indeed, in portraying the inevitable consequences of the 1871 Act, Senator Thurman pointed to criminal prosecutions of state judicial officers that had already taken place under the 1866 Act. These statements can hardly be dismissed as exaggerated rhetoric from opponents of the 1871 Act. [Footnote 2/23] Instead, they simply reflect the fact that the battle over liability for those integral to the judicial process had already been fought in 1866 when Congress

Page 460 U. S. 362

adopted the far more serious criminal sanction aimed at state judicial systems. Section 1, in contrast, provided for “the mild remedy of a civil action.” Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 482 (1871) (Rep. Wilson, member of the House Judiciary Committee). So it was not surprising that the arguments of the opponents to the 1871 Act would fall on deaf ears. It is also noteworthy that Representative Shellabarger, who was hardly reluctant to interrupt speakers who were misconstruing his proposal, [Footnote 2/24] never disputed the opponents’ characterizations with regard to the liability of state judicial officers. [Footnote 2/25]

To assume that Congress, which had enacted a criminal sanction directed against state judicial officials, [Footnote 2/26] intended sub silentio to exempt those same officials from the civil counterpart approaches the incredible. [Footnote 2/27] Sheriffs and marshals, while performing a quintessentially judicial function such as serving process, were clearly liable under the 1866 Act, notwithstanding President Johnson’s objections. Because,

Page 460 U. S. 363

as Representative Shellabarger stated, § 1 of the 1871 Act provided a civil remedy “in identically the same case” or “on the same state of facts” as § 2 of the 1866 Act, it obviously overrode whatever immunity may have existed at common law for these participants in the judicial process in 1871.

D goon

The lack of historical support for witness immunity sharply contrasts with the substantial historical support for legislative immunity which this Court recognized in Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U. S. 367 (1951), a case on which the majority relies. Ante at 460 U. S. 330, 460 U. S. 334. Legislative immunity enjoyed a unique historical position, since it had been conceived in the Parliamentary struggles of the 17th century and enshrined in the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution. The vast majority of States had adopted constitutional provisions providing a parallel protection against civil and criminal liability. See 341 U.S. at 341 U. S. 372-375.

Moreover, the history of § 1 supports incorporation of legislative immunity. For example, when the specter of holding state legislators liable under § 2 of the 1866 Act was raised by President Johnson’s veto message, [Footnote 2/28] the Senate sponsor of the Act was quick to disavow any such intention. Senator Trumbull argued at some length that legislators did not fall within the scope of the Act, because they “enact” laws, rather than act “under color of” state law. [Footnote 2/29] Whatever the validity of this distinction, it no doubt reflected the reluctance of Congress to impinge on the immunity of state legislators. But while the Radical Republican Congress was a “staunch advocate of legislative freedom,” 341 U.S. at 341 U. S. 376, it displayed no solicitude for state courts. [Footnote 2/30] The debates over the 1871 Act are replete with hostile comments directed at state judicial

Page 460 U. S. 364

systems. [Footnote 2/31] It is entirely reasonable to conclude that Congress intended to make state legislators immune from civil liability under § 1 of the 1871 Act. No similar evidence exists to support an immunity for police officers testifying as witnesses. [Footnote 2/32]

IV

The majority also bases its decision on considerations of public policy, which purportedly mandate absolute immunity for police officers sued under § 1983 for their testimony as witnesses. Ante at 460 U. S. 341-345. This Court has recognized absolute immunity only in “exceptional situations” where public policy makes it “essential.” Butz v. Economou, 438 U. S. 478, 438 U. S. 507 (1978). [Footnote 2/33] In my view, the case for official witness immunity falls far short of this standard.

Page 460 U. S. 365

Police officers and other government officials differ significantly from private citizens, around whom common law doctrines of witness immunity developed. A police officer comes to the witness stand clothed with the authority of the State. His official status gives him credibility, and creates a far greater potential for harm than exists when the average citizen testifies. [Footnote 2/34] The situation is aggravated when the official draws on special expertise. A policeman testifying about a fingerprint identification or a medical examiner testifying as to the cause of a death can have a critical impact on a defendant’s trial. [Footnote 2/35] At the same time, the threat of a criminal perjury prosecution, which serves as an important constraint on the average witness’ testimony, is virtually nonexistent in the police witness context. Despite the apparent prevalence of police perjury, [Footnote 2/36] prosecutors exhibit extreme

Page 460 U. S. 366

reluctance in charging police officials with criminal conduct because of their need to maintain close working relationships with law enforcement agencies. [Footnote 2/37] The majority thus forecloses a civil sanction in precisely those situations where the need is most pressing.

Moreover, the danger that official witnesses would be inhibited in testifying by the fear of a damages action is much more remote than would be the case with private witnesses. Policemen normally have a duty to testify about matters involving their official conduct. The notion that officials with a professional interest in securing criminal convictions would shade their testimony in favor of a defendant to avoid the risk of a civil suit can only be viewed with skepticism. In addition, police officials are usually insulated from any economic hardship associated with lawsuits based on conduct within the scope of their authority. [Footnote 2/38] In any event, if the Court truly desires to give police officers “every encouragement to make a full disclosure of all pertinent information within their knowledge,'” ante at 460 U. S. 335 (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. at 424 U. S. 439 (WHITE, J., concurring in judgment)), then, at the very least, it should permit § 1983 suits which allege that officials withheld key information while testifying. [Footnote 2/39]

Page 460 U. S. 367

The majority’s primary concern appears to be that § 1983 suits against police witnesses would impose “significant burdens on the judicial system and on law enforcement resources.” Ante at 460 U. S. 343. As an empirical matter, this contention is unfounded. Both the Sixth Circuit and the District of Columbia Circuit have permitted such suits for over five years, see ante at 460 U. S. 328-329, n. 4, but there is no perceptible drain on legal resources in those Circuits compared to other Circuits that bar such lawsuits. Moreover, a comprehensive study of § 1983 suits filed in the Central District of California, which includes Los Angeles, indicates that only about 30 actions for false arrest were filed annually in that District. [Footnote 2/40] Police officers arrest much more frequently than they testify, and an arrest will undoubtedly make many individuals disgruntled. Yet lawsuits based on such allegations constituted only 0.5% of all cases filed in the Central District, [Footnote 2/41] or an average of only one for every 243 full-time police

Page 460 U. S. 368

officers in the city of Los Angeles. [Footnote 2/42] This does not appear to be a “significant burden.” [Footnote 2/43] The simple fact is that practical obstacles alone are enough to deter most individuals from suing the police for official misconduct. [Footnote 2/44]

In considering the competing interests at stake in this area, the majority strikes a very one-sided balance. It eschews any qualified immunity in favor of an absolute one. Thus, the mere inquiry into good faith is deemed so undesirable that we must simply acquiesce in the possibility that government officials will maliciously deprive citizens of their rights. [Footnote 2/45] For my part, I cannot conceive in this case how patent violations of individual rights can be tolerated in the name of the public good.

“The very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protections of the laws, whenever he receives an injury.”

Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 5 U. S. 163 (1803).

Page 460 U. S. 369

V

For all of the above reasons, I believe that the majority has failed to sustain the heavy burden required to justify an immunity so plainly at odds with the language and purpose of § 1983. I therefore respectfully dissent.

[Footnote 2/1]

E.g., Jackson Transit Authority v. Transit Union, 457 U. S. 15, 457 U. S. 23 (1982); Bread Political Action Comm. v. FEC, 455 U. S. 577, 455 U. S. 580 (1982); Universities Research Assn. v. Coutu, 450 U. S. 754, 450 U. S. 771 (1981); Dawson Chemical Co. v. Rohm & Haas Co., 448 U. S. 176, 448 U. S. 187 (1980).

[Footnote 2/2]

The majority criticizes a literal reading of the statute, and refers to National Society of Professional Engineers v. United States, 435 U. S. 679 (1978). Ante at 460 U. S. 330, and n. 8. In National Society, the Court noted that the language of § 1 of the Sherman Act “cannot mean what it says.” 435 U.S. at 435 U. S. 687. But there is no logical reason why the word “person” in § 1983 should be read to exclude a witness. Moreover, on a number of occasions, this Court has relied on the plain language of § 1983. See, e.g., Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U. S. 1, 448 U. S. 4 (1980) (“The question before us is whether the phrase and laws,’ as used in § 1983, means what it says, or whether it should be limited to some subset of laws. Given that Congress attached no modifiers to the phrase, the plain language of the statute undoubtedly embraces respondents’ claim . . .”); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U. S. 527, 451 U. S. 534 (1981) (relying in part on text of § 1983 to reject limitation of statute to intentional deprivations); Owen v. City of Independence, 445 U. S. 622, 445 U. S. 635 (1980) (relying on the “absolute and unqualified” language of § 1983 to reject a qualified immunity for municipalities); Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U. S. 658, 436 U. S. 688-689 (1978) (relying on “plain meaning” of § 1983). Cf. Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U. S. 409, 392 U. S. 420 (1968) (relying on the “plain and unambiguous terms” of 42 U.S.C. § 1982).

[Footnote 2/3]

See Mastro Plastics Corp. v. NLRB, 350 U. S. 270, 350 U. S. 285 (1956) (quoting United States v. Boisdore’s Heirs, 8 How. 113, 49 U. S. 122 (1849)); SEC v. C. M. Joiner Leasing Corp., 320 U. S. 344, 320 U. S. 350-351 (1943); H. Hart & A. Sacks, The Legal Process 1411 (Tent. ed.1958).

[Footnote 2/4]

See also Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 217 (1871) (Sen. Thurman in opposition) (“[T]here is no limitation whatsoever upon the terms that are employed [in § 1983], and they are as comprehensive as can be used”); id. at 800 (Rep. Perry) (“Now, by our action on this bill, we have asserted as fully as we can assert the mischief intended to be remedied”); id. at 476 (Rep. Dawes) (The person who “invades, trenches upon, or impairs one iota or tittle of the least of [constitutional rights], to that extent trenches upon the Constitution and laws of the United States, and this Constitution authorizes us to bring him before the courts to answer therefor”).

[Footnote 2/5]

See Note, 68 Harv.L.Rev. 1229, 1232 (1955) (“When a suit is based on deprivation of a federally guaranteed right, the need to enforce federal limitations on state action constitutes a consideration in favor of recovery which is not present in suits under state law”); P. Bator, P. Mishkin, D. Shapiro, & H. Wechsler, Hart and Wechsler’s The Federal Courts and the Federal System 336 (2d ed.1973) (“[W]here constitutional rights are at stake, the courts are properly astute, in construing statutes, to avoid the conclusion that Congress intended to use the privilege of immunity . . . in order to defeat them”).

[Footnote 2/6]

See Memorandum in Support of Complaint, App. 9-11.

[Footnote 2/7]

The action for malicious prosecution grew out of the related action for conspiracy. As early as 1293, various statutes were enacted to aid persons who had been falsely and maliciously indicted or accused of crimes by conspiracy among the defendants. In such cases, a writ of conspiracy was employed in seeking redress. By the 16th century, this action was replaced by an action on the case in the nature of a conspiracy, but the allegation of a conspiracy was soon treated as surplusage. The result was an action on the case. See M. Bigelow, Leading Cases on the Law of Torts 190-191 (1875); 1 T. Street, The Foundations of Legal Liability 328-329 (1906); 2 W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law 366 (4th ed.1936).

[Footnote 2/8]

See, e.g., Blizard v. Kelly, 2 Barn. & Cress. 283, 284, 107 Eng.Rep. 389 (K.B. 1823) (“The legal sense and meaning of those words is, that the party made the charge of felony before a magistrate”); Davis v. Noak, 1 Stark. 377, 382, 171 Eng.Rep. 502, 504 (N.P. 1816).

[Footnote 2/9]

See, e.g., Fuller v. Cook, 3 Leo. 100, 74 Eng.Rep. 567 (K.B. 1584); Knight v. Jermin, Cro.Eliz. 134, 78 Eng.Rep. 391 (K.B. 1589); Clarke v. Postan, 6 Car. & P. 423, 172 Eng.Rep. 1304 (N.P. 1834); Wheeler v. Nesbitt, 24 How. 544, 65 U. S. 546 (1861); Bunton v. Worley, 4 Ky. 38 (1815); Maddox v. Jackson, 4 Munf. 462 (Va. 1815); Hill v. Miles, 9 N.H. 9, 13 (1837) (permitting an action for “maliciously and without reasonable or probable cause, charging a party with felony before a magistrate”); Briggs v. Byrd, 34 N.C. 377, 380 (1851); Center v. Spring, 2 Iowa 393 (1856); Wilkinson v. Arnold, 11 Ind. 45 (1858); Rockwell v. Brown, 36 N.Y. 207, 209 (1867).

[Footnote 2/10]

I reject the majority’s conclusion that the issue of immunity for testimony by a police officer at a probable cause hearing is not before this Court. The majority emphasizes that the question presented in the petition for certiorari only mentions testimony by a police officer during a criminal trial. Ante at 460 U. S. 329, n. 5. This literal reading of the question presented is contrary to our Rules, which provide that “[t]he statement of a question presented will be deemed to comprise every subsidiary question fairly included therein.” This Court’s Rule 21.1(a). See also Peters v. Kiff, 407 U. S. 493, 407 U. S. 495 (1972) (MARHSALL, J, announcing the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which Douglas and Stewart, JJ., joined) (a challenge to the composition of a grand jury in the questions presented encompassed a challenge to the composition of the petit jury even though the question presented did not mention petit juries).

I believe that the question of witness immunity in one state court criminal proceeding, the trial, fairly includes the issue of witness immunity in a related state court criminal proceeding, the probable cause hearing. The petition for certiorari in this case specifically referred to Officer LaHue’s testimony at “several judicial proceedings relating to the state criminal prosecution,” Pet. for Cert. 7, and it spoke in general terms about absolute witness immunity, e.g., id. at 14, 16-18, 20. Both petitioners and respondents obviously thought the issue was before us since they quoted lengthy excerpts from Officer LaHue’s testimony at the probable cause hearings in their briefs before this Court. See Brief for Petitioners 3-5; Brief for Respondents 2-4. Petitioner Briscoe has asserted respondent LaHue’s liability for testimony at the probable cause hearing throughout this proceeding. E.g.,App. 9-11, 17-22. Indeed, the District Court appeared to believe that the only issue raised by Briscoe’s complaint involved testimony at a probable cause hearing. See Briscoe v. LaHue, No. S 78-139 (ND Ind., Oct. 3, 1978), App. to Pet. for Cert. A-47. The Court of Appeals discussed the probable cause hearing testimony, 663 F.2d 713, 715, and its holding was framed in general terms regarding testimony at judicial proceedings, see ante at 460 U. S. 328, which would certainly include probable cause hearings.

The majority nonetheless clearly leaves open the issue of immunity for testimony at a probable cause hearing. Ante at 460 U. S. 329, n. 5. The absence of any immunity in such cases at common law should alone undermine any claim to absolute immunity under § 1983. In addition, the policy considerations applicable to testimony at a probable cause hearing differ substantially from those relevant to testimony at a trial. For instance, the absence of cross-examination at probable cause hearings increases the risk that false testimony will go undetected.

[Footnote 2/11]

The Court itself noted that its examination of the law was “extended” because of the “importance of [the] subject.” 3 How. at 44 U. S. 291.

[Footnote 2/12]

Hodgson v. Scarlett, 1 Barn. & Ald. 232, 246-247, 106 Eng.Rep. 86, 91 (K.B. 1818) (Holroyd, J.). See also Kendillon v. Maltby, Car. & M. 402, 409, 174 Eng.Rep. 562, 566 (N.P. 1842) (Lord Denman C.J.), Thomas v. Churton, 2 B. & S. 475, 477, 121 Eng.Rep. 1150, 1151 (Q.B. 1862) (Cockburn, C.J.) (reserving the question).

[Footnote 2/13]

The Court explained that “falsehood and the absence of probable cause will amount to proof of malice.” 3 How. at 44 U. S. 291.

[Footnote 2/14]

This jurisdictional grant was contained in the Act of Apr. 20, 1871, § 1, 17 Stat. 13, and was the forerunner of 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).

[Footnote 2/15]

The views of the Supreme Court obviously conflicted with those expressed by some state court judges. That is precisely the point: federal common law diverged from state common law as to witness immunity. The majority reasons as if state common law controlled the matter. See ante at 460 U. S. 331-333, and nn. 11, 12. Because federal common law prevailed when Congress enacted § 1983, and because the federal remedy provided in the Act was accompanied by a new grant of federal jurisdiction, I believe White v. Nicholl would have been the natural focus of attention for the 42d Congress. The majority does not explain why it thinks that the 42d Congress would instead have focused on state common law.

In any event, the majority’s analysis of state court decisions is sorely deficient. The proper inquiry in this case, as defined by the majority itself, is on common law principles as understood by the Members of the 42d Congress. See ante at 460 U. S. 330. The 42d Congress enacted § 1983 in 1871. Yet the majority inexplicably relies on 11 cases decided after 1871. These cases are plainly irrelevant to the question of the 42d Congress’ intent. Unless it was clairvoyant, the 42d Congress could not possibly have had access to most of the decisions relied on by the majority. By the same token, Congress certainly would not have had the benefit of the views of Van Vechter Veeder, ante at 460 U. S. 332, n. 12, who wrote his article in 1909.

The only arguably relevant support that the majority cites for the view that Congress extended absolute immunity to police officers who give perjurious testimony consists of eight state court cases decided before 1871. None of these cases involved testimony by an official of the State, let alone a police officer, and the only support the majority can muster for the notion that the common law witness immunity drew no distinction between public officials and private citizens is the 1909 article by Van Vechter Veeder. See ante at 460 U. S. 336, n. 15. In three of the pre-1871 cases, plaintiffs suing for defamation prevailed completely. In Smith v. Howard, 28 Iowa 51 (1869), and White v. Carroll, 42 N.Y. 161 (1870), the State Supreme Courts affirmed an award of damages recovered against a defendant who had slandered the plaintiff from the witness stand. Similarly, in Perkin v. Mitchell, 31 Barb. 461 (N.Y. 1860), the state court affirmed a trial court order rejecting a defendant’s demurrer to a complaint. It held that a plaintiff could sue for defamatory statements made by a physician to a Justice of the Peace that resulted in the plaintiff’s commitment as a lunatic. Whatever might have been said about immunity in these cases was, to use the majority’s language, ante at 460 U. S. 332, n. 12, “purely dictum.” Two other cases, Hoar v. Wood, 44 Mass.193 (1841), and Shelfer v. Gooding, 47 N.C. 175 (1855), involved statements by counsel, and not statements by a witness. This leaves three pre-1871 state cases upholding witness immunity, and these only as to private witnesses.

As between a smattering of state court opinions and the extended and well-reasoned analysis of a unanimous Supreme Court, I think the latter would have commanded the attention of the Members of the 42d Congress. In fact, while Members of the 42d Congress displayed little interest in or familiarity with state court decisions, they often focused on cases from the United States Supreme Court in their deliberations on the 1871 Act. See, e.g., Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 375 (1871) (Cong.Globe) (Rep. Lowe) (citing Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 16 Pet. 539 (1842)); Cong.Globe, at 459 (Rep. Coburn) (citing Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264 (1821)); Cong.Globe, at App. 84 (Rep. Bingham) (citing Barron v. Mayor of Baltimore, 7 Pet. 243 (1833), and Moore v. Illinois, 14 How. 13 (1852)); Cong.Globe, at App. 188 (Rep. Willard) (citing the majority and dissenting opinions in the Dred Scott case, Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393 (1857)); Cong.Globe, at 242 (Sen. Bayard) (citing Withers v. Buckley, 20 How. 84 (1858)); Cong.Globe, at App. 311 (Rep. Shellabarger) (citing Jones v. Van Zandt, 5 How. 215 (1847)).

[Footnote 2/16]

Brief for Petitioners 19-20.

[Footnote 2/17]

As enacted, § 1 of the 1871 Act read in pertinent part:

“That any person who, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State, shall subject, or cause to be subjected, any person within the jurisdiction of the United States to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution of the United States, shall, any such law, statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of the State to the contrary notwithstanding, be liable to the party injured in any action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .”

Act of Apr. 20, 1871, § 1, 17 Stat. 13.

Section 2 of the 1866 Civil Rights Act read in pertinent part:

“That any person who, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, shall subject, or cause to be subjected, any inhabitant of any State or Territory to the deprivation of any right secured or protected by this act, or to different punishment, pains, or penalties on account of such person having at any time been held in a condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, or by reason of his color or race, than is prescribed for the punishment of white persons, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be punished by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both, in the discretion of the court.”

[Footnote 2/18]

See, e.g., Cong.Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 475-476 (1866) (exchange between Sen. Trumbull, the Senate sponsor of the bill, and Sen. Cowan); id. at 1155 (exchange between Rep. Thayer and Rep. Eldridge); id. at 1267 (Rep. Raymond) (“[I]f a judge or sheriff or any other officer of a State court should take part in enforcing any State law making distinctions among the citizens of the State on account of race or color, he shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and punished with fine and imprisonment under this bill”); id. at 500 (Sen. Cowan in opposition) (noting that “the judge, the constable, the sheriff, the marshal, and everybody” was liable under § 2); id. at 598 (Sen. Davis in opposition) (“All the parties” who participate in the unjust conviction of a Negro would be liable, including “the grand jury, the petit jury, the judge, and the officer of the law” who executes the judgment).

[Footnote 2/19]

E.g., Pierson v. Ray, 386 U. S. 547, 386 U. S. 556-557 (1967); Monroe v. Pape, 365 U. S. 167, 365 U. S. 187 (1961). See Carey v. Piphus, 435 U. S. 247, 435 U. S. 255 (1978); Nahmod, Section 1983 and the “Background” of Tort Liability, 50 Ind.L.J. 5 (1974).

[Footnote 2/20]

See, e.g., Cong.Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 1293-1295 (1866).

[Footnote 2/21]

Because discussion of § 1 of the 1871 Act was so limited, it is simply unrealistic to demand overwhelming evidence that the 42d Congress meant to override a common law witness immunity. Surely the majority does not mean to define an inquiry that is inherently futile.

[Footnote 2/22]

See, e.g., Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., 365, 366, (1871) (statements of Rep. Arthur); id. at 385 (statement of Rep. Lewis).

[Footnote 2/23]

Id. at App. 217.

[Footnote 2/24]

E.g., id. at 382, App. 46

[Footnote 2/25]

On at least one of the occasions when such remarks were made, Representative Shellabarger was present. See Note, Liability of Judicial Officers Under Section 1983, 79 Yale L.J. 322, 328, n. 40 (1969).

[Footnote 2/26]

The majority does concede that witnesses can be punished criminally for violations of 18 U.S.C. § 242, the modern successor of § 2 of the 1866 Act. See ante at 460 U. S. 345, n. 32. It cannot go without mention that the classic English formulation of absolute witness immunity by Lord Mansfield, which even the majority quotes, ante at 460 U. S. 335, precluded civil or criminal liability. King v. Skinner, Lofft 54, 56, 98 Eng.Rep. 529 (K.B. 1772) (“[N]either party, witness, counsel, jury, or judge can be put to answer, civilly or criminally, for words spoken in office”) (emphasis added). Under early common law, perjury was not a punishable offense. Jurors were merely a body of witnesses whose verdict was based on their own personal knowledge, and not on the evidence of others testifying before them. The only method of punishment was by a writ of attaint. See generally 4 W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law 515-519 (3d ed.1924); Damport v. Sympson, Cro.Eliz. 520, 78 Eng.Rep. 769 (Q.B. 1596).

[Footnote 2/27]

See Kates, Immunity of State Judges under the Federal Civil Rights Acts, 65 Nw.U.L.Rev. 615, 622-623 (1970).

[Footnote 2/28]

See Cong.Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 1680 (1866).

[Footnote 2/29]

Id. at 1758.

[Footnote 2/30]

See Developments in the Law — Section 1983 and Federalism, 90 Harv.L.Rev. 1133, 1150-1152 (1977).

[Footnote 2/31]

See, e.g., Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 78 (Rep. Perry) (“Sheriffs, having eyes to see, see not; judges, having ears to hear, hear not; witnesses conceal the truth or falsify it; grand and petit juries act as if they might be accomplices”); id. at 394 (Rep. Rainey) (“[T]he courts are, in many instances, under the control of those who are wholly inimical to the impartial administration of law and equity”); id. at App. 186 (Rep. Platt) (judges exercise their “almost despotic powers . . . against Republicans without regard to law or justice”); id. at App. 277 (Rep. Porter) (“The outrages committed upon loyal men there are under the forms of law. It can be summed up in one word: loyal men cannot obtain justice in the courts. . . .”); id. at 429 (referring to “prejudiced juries and bribed judges”).

[Footnote 2/32]

The history of § 1 of the 1871 Act casts some doubt on the correctness of Pierson v. Ray, 386 U. S. 547 (1967), and Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409 (1976). Pierson and Imbler are distinguishable, however, on the ground that the policy considerations in those cases are far more powerful. Most significantly, judges and prosecutors must exercise a substantial amount of discretion in performing their official functions, while witnesses sworn to tell the truth do not. See n. 39, infra. In addition, we have only extended qualified immunity to police officers for the performance of many of their other duties. See Pierson, supra, at 386 U. S. 557.

[Footnote 2/33]

Butz involved an action under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388 (1971). In my view, we should be even more reluctant to import absolute immunities into § 1983 suits than into Bivens actions. First, with § 1983, we deal with explicit statutory language indicating the broad scope of the action, whereas Bivens actions have been implied by the federal courts. Second, the need to restrain state action implicit in the Fourteenth Amendment is implicated by § 1983 suits, while that Amendment has no relevance to suits against federal officials.

[Footnote 2/34]

See Nugent v. Sheppard, 318 F.Supp. 314, 317 (ND Ind.1970). Cf. Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, supra, at 403 U. S. 392 (agent acting in the name of the United States possesses “far greater capacity for harm” than individual trespasser acting on his own).

[Footnote 2/35]

Checks and balances built into the trial process may well have limitations and strategic costs. For instance, lengthy cross-examination of an official witness may expose weaknesses in his testimony only at the cost of emphasizing the evidence in the mind of the jury.

[Footnote 2/36]

See United States v. Marshall, 488 F.2d 1169, 1171 (CA9 1973); Veney v. United States, 120 U.S.App.D.C. 157, 157-158, 344 F.2d 542, 542-543 (1965) (Wright, J., concurring in judgment); People v. Berrios, 28 N.Y.2d 361, 370, 270 N.E.2d 709, 714 (1971) (Fuld, C.J., dissenting); People v. Dickerson, 273 Cal.App.2d 645, 650, n. 4, 78 Cal.Rptr. 400, 403, n. 4 (1969); B. Tarlow, Search Warrants 31-77 (1973); New York City Commission to Investigate Alleged Police Corruption, Knapp Commission Report on Police Corruption (1972); Sevilla, The Exclusionary Rule and Police Perjury, 11 San Diego L.Rev. 839 (1974); Grano, A Dilemma for Defense Counsel: Spinelli-Harris Search Warrants and the Possibility of Police Perjury, 1971 U.Ill.Law Forum 405, 408-409; Younger, The Perjury Routine, 204 The Nation 596 (1967); Comment, 60 Geo.L.J. 507 (1971); Note, 4 Colum.J.Law & Soc.Probs. 87, 96, n. 40 (1968).

[Footnote 2/37]
[Footnote 2/37]

See Newman, Suing the Law Breakers, 87 Yale L.J. 447, 449-450 (1977).

[Footnote 2/38]

Police officers are generally provided free counsel, and are indemnified for conduct within the scope of their authority. See Monell v. New York Cit Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. at 436 U. S. 713 (POWELL, J., concurring); Project, 88 Yale L.J. 781, 810 (1979). This is certainly the state of the law with respect to respondents. See Ind.Code Ann. §§ 34-4-16.5-5(b) and 34-4-16.5-18 (Burns Supp.1982).

[Footnote 2/39]

Despite the differences between official witnesses and private witnesses, the majority contends that “immunity analysis rests on functional categories, not on the status of the defendant.” Ante at 460 U. S. 342. However the cases cited for this proposition, ante at 460 U. S. 342, n. 28, all involve various types of official conduct. The fact that individuals within the government should be treated the same because of the functions they perform does not necessarily mean that individuals within the government should be treated the same as private parties.

While relying on functional categories, the majority ignores the classic distinction embodied in immunity cases between acts involving discretion and those that do not. See Kendall v. Stokes 3 How. 87, 44 U. S. 98 (1845); McCray v. Maryland, 456 F.2d 1, 3-4 (CA4 1972) (“Where an official is not called upon to exercise judicial or quasijudicial discretion, courts have properly refused to extend to him the protection of absolute judicial immunity, regardless of any apparent relationship of his role to the judicial system”). Here, as the lower court noted, 663 F.2d 713, 719, a witness normally exercises no discretion in the performance of his duty to answer fully and truthfully all questions put to him. As a result, “the need for absolute immunity seems correspondingly less compelling.” Id. at 720.

[Footnote 2/40]

See Eisenberg, Section 1983: Doctrinal Foundations and An Empirical Study, 67 Cornell L.Rev. 482, 550-551, 555 (1982). The statistics are for 1975-1976. The estimate given in the text is approximate, because Professor Eisenberg has grouped statistics for prisoner 1983 actions involving false arrest, assault, and search and seizure. See id. at 555, Table VI.

[Footnote 2/41]

A total of 5,810 cases were filed in the Central District of California in 1976. See Annual Report of the Director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts 177, Table 18, 350, Table D-3 (1976).

[Footnote 2/42]

There were 7,294 full-time police officers employed by the city of Los Angeles in 1976. See generally U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, City Employment in 1976, p. 8, Table 4 (1977) (data for all police department employees).

[Footnote 2/43]

Data from another State indicate that the California experience may overstate the burden of false arrest cases. Over more than seven years, a total of only 32 § 1983 suits for false arrest were brought in Federal District Court for all or part of Connecticut. See Project, 88 Yale L.J., supra, at 786, n. 23, 793.

[Footnote 2/44]

Former criminal defendants may well wish to avoid further entanglements with the legal system, and are unlikely to have the resources needed to pursue such suits. Lawyers will probably have little incentive to become involved in actions against the police, and those that do face an uphill struggle. See Amsterdam, The Supreme Court and the Rights of Suspects in Criminal Cases, 45 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 785, 787 (1970) (civil actions against the police are “very rare, and, until recently, were so rare as to be insignificant, because the obstacles to their maintenance are formidable”).

[Footnote 2/45]

Cf. 2 F. Harper & F. James, Law of Torts 1645 (1956) (“[I]t is stretching the argument pretty far to say that the mere inquiry into malice would have worse consequences than the possibility of actual malice. . . . Since the danger that official power will be abused is greatest where motives are improper, the balance here may well swing the other way”) (emphasis deleted).

JUSTICE BLACKMUN, dissenting.

I join all of JUSTICE MARSHALL’s dissenting opinion except 460 U. S. I cannot join its Part I, for I adhere to the views I expressed for the Court in City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U. S. 247, 453 U. S. 258-259 (1981), regarding the role played by history and policy in determining whether § 1983 incorporates a particular common law immunity. It is proper to assume — indeed, the Court in the past has assumed —

“that members of the 42d Congress were familiar with common law principles . . . , and that they likely intended these common law principles to obtain, absent specific provisions to the contrary.”

Id. at 453 U. S. 258. If an immunity was well established in the common law in 1871, careful analysis of the policies supporting it, and those supporting § 1983, governs the determination whether that immunity was retained.

In my view, JUSTICE MARSHALL’s dissent convincingly demonstrates that the Court finds little support for its decision in the present case either in the language of the statute, the history of the common law, the relevant legislative history, or policy considerations.

I therefore dissent.

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A Florida judge was reprimanded Wednesday for using “one of the worst profanities known to the English language.”

Judge Jacqueline Schwartz told a convenience store owner in Coconut Grove in June 2014 to “Go f— yourself” and threatened to sue him after he posted an opponent’s campaign sign and refused to post hers. She was subsequently re-elected.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga also rapped Schwartz, who sits in Hialeah, for interfering with the official record in an unrelated matter, the Tampa Bay Times reports. That’s because the judge made notes on the margins of court documents and then asked a bailiff to erase the notes when a lawyer asked for a certified copies.

“Judges are not privileged simply to erase their potential mistakes from the public record,” Labarga told Schwartz. “This misconduct we cannot and will not tolerate.”

Schwartz, who also agreed to a $10,000 fine and a 30-day suspension to resolve the legal ethics case, said nothing to the supreme court and declined to comment after the reprimand, the Times reports.

 
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