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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. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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