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

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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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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

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