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Prosecutor can’t grant use immunity to parents of injured infant

March 28, 2013

The Indiana Supreme Court held Wednesday that a prosecutor can’t petition a court to compel a party to testify under the grant of use immunity when the party is the primary target of the investigation and has invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination if no charges have been filed or a grand jury proceeding hasn’t been initiated.

The issue arose in In Re: Prosecutor's Subpoena Regarding S.H. and S.C.; S.H. v. State of Indiana, 73S01-1209-CR-563, in which the Shelby County Prosecutor’s Office was investigating multiple puncture wounds on the back of S.H.’s and S.C.’s newborn. S.C. gave birth to the child alone in their apartment; when S.H. returned and took the mother and child to the hospital, the staff saw the wounds. This led to an investigation and removal of the baby from her parents’ care.

The county prosecutor petitioned for subpoenas to compel the parents to testify. The day before they were set to testify, their attorney moved to quash the subpoenas under their constitutional rights against self-incrimination. The prosecutor then petitioned for grant of use immunity, which the trial court granted. The court also denied the parents’ motion to correct error, holding the authority to compel testimony through use immunity was implicit in the office of the prosecutor itself.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed on other grounds, but the justices disagreed, reversing the trial court and sending the case back to Shelby Superior Court. Justice Mark Massa, writing for the court, held that the prosecutor had no statutory authority under I.C. 35-34-2 or 35-37-3 to request the grant of use immunity. These statutes allow a petition for grant of use immunity only when either a grand jury has been convened or the prosecutor has filed an indictment or information.

They also held that I.C. 33-39-1-4 doesn’t extend to a request for grant of use immunity. They rejected the state’s argument that In re Order for Indiana Bell Telephone to Disclose Records, 274 Ind. 131, 409 N.E.2d 1089 (1980), or any other precedent confers prosecutorial authority in the absence of express statutory language.

“We will not use Indiana Bell as a justification for a judicial expansion of that authority in contravention of the General Assembly’s express instructions. To do so would be an encroachment into the legislative purview incompatible with our constitutionally-mandated separation of powers,” he wrote.

“We also recognize that the General Assembly may have had good reason to restrict use immunity – a potent tool that permits courts to override an individual’s constitutional right against self-incrimination – to contexts in which there is substantial judicial oversight,” Massa continued. “Both grand jury proceedings and post-charge hearings and trials provide that oversight.”

 

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