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Prosecutors are absolutely immune from 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil liability for core prosecutorial actions, such as initiating a prosecution and presenting the State's case. Absolute immunity applies for a prosecutor's conduct that is intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. However, only qualified immunity, the norm for governmental officials and police officers, applies for a prosecutor's conduct when he acts not as an advocate for the state, but instead, as an investigator or administrator. Absolute immunity completely shields a litigant from civil liability. Qualified immunity protects an individual from civil liability insofar as his or her conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.
On April 19, 1986, Chicago police officers discovered the bodies of Vincent and Rafaela Sanchez in their home in Chicago, Illinois. According to Defendants Troy and Lacy, Marva Hall informed police officers that Patterson (“Plaintiff”) had admitted to killing the Sanchezes and had attempted to sell her a shotgun and a chainsaw taken from the Sanchez home. Contrary to Defendants' contention, Plaintiff submits affidavits from Marva Hall, in which recants her earlier testimony and states that she never told officers that Plaintiff confessed to the murders or that Plaintiff had attempted to sell her a shotgun after the Sanchez murders. Plaintiff was found hiding in the attic of a building near the Sanchez home several days after the murders. He was arrested on outstanding warrants for crimes unrelated to the murders and was taken to Area 2 for questioning about the Sanchez murders. According to Plaintiff, at Area 2, he was placed in a room and was handcuffed either to a bar on the wall or behind his back. Several officers were in the room and asked him questions about the Sanchez murders. Plaintiff responded by telling officers that he was not involved and further told officers where he was and who he was with at the time of the murders. Plaintiff testified in his deposition that no matter how many times he responded to the officers' questions, "it was going nowhere. . . . they didn't want to believe anything I was saying." Plaintiff states that he was then beaten. Plaintiff recalls there being six to seven officers in the room. The light was turned off and one officer put a gray plastic bag (believed to be a typewriter cover) over Plaintiff's head and pressed the bag against Plaintiff's face. At the same time, other officers kicked and beat Plaintiff in the chest; another officer put his hands around Plaintiff's neck; and other officers began hitting him. During this beating, the officers repeatedly stated that Plaintiff was going to do what the officers wanted him to do. When he refused to cooperate, the beating continued for a minute or so. The light was turned on and officers stated that they would beat Plaintiff again if he did not do as they said. Plaintiff was beaten again, "this time it was a little bit longer." When again asked if he was going to answer their questions and cooperate, Plaintiff replied, "Anything you say." Plaintiff asked for water, but he was brought bourbon. Officers then told him that an ASA was coming and that Plaintiff was to tell him that he committed the murders. When the officers left to get the ASA, Plaintiff took a paper clip from the table and scratched on the bench where he was sitting. Plaintiff wrote: “I lie about murders. Police threaten me with violence. Slapped and suffocated me with plastic. No lawyer. No deal. No phone. Signed false statement to murders. . . .” Plaintiff stated that ASA Kip Owen entered the interrogation room with Detective Jon Burge. Owen told Plaintiff that he heard that Plaintiff wanted to make a statement. Plaintiff asked if Burge could step out of the room, which he did. Plaintiff then asked for an attorney; Owen responded that he thought Plaintiff wanted to make a statement; Plaintiff replied that he did not want to confess and that officers had beaten him. Owen then opened the door and said to Burge that Plaintiff did not want to confess, but instead, complained that he had been beaten. Owen then left. Burge entered the room and, placing his gun on the table, told Plaintiff that he "was fucking up" and that he would get a beating worse than the one before if he did not cooperate. Burge then left the room. Officers entered the room and either asked questions about the Sanchez murders or made statements about the murders, to which Plaintiff again replied, "whatever you say."
Sometime later, ASA Lacy, the Felony Review Unit attorney for Area 2, was contacted. Troy accompanied Lacy to Area 2 because Lacy was inexperienced with taking statements in murder cases. According to Lacy and Troy, both of them entered the interrogation room to speak to Plaintiff . Although Plaintiff remembered Troy entering the room with a person Plaintiff did not know, Plaintiff repeated throughout his deposition and pleadings that Lacy was never present. According to Troy, he read Plaintiff his Miranda warnings, which Plaintiff stated he understood. Troy asked police detective, Lieutenant Madigan, to leave, at which time Troy asked Plaintiff how he had been treated. Plaintiff stated that he had been treated well; had not been beaten or coerced; and had been fed and allowed to use the bathroom. Plaintiff deniesdthat Troy asked him about how he had been treated, but Plaintiff did not indicate that he told Troy that he had been beaten. According to Troy, he then conducted an interview, with Lacy present, during which Plaintiff admitted to killing the Sanchezes. Troy then asked Plaintiff if he would memorialize his confession in either a written statement or a court reported statement. Plaintiff agreed to sign a handwritten statement, and Troy drafted the statement. According to Plaintiff, he never told Troy that he committed the murders. Troy and Plaintiff differ as to when the statement was drafted. According to Troy, he drafted it once Plaintiff agreed to sign a written statement. Troy contended that Plaintiff then read and agreed with the statement's contents but asked to make several phone calls before signing it. According to Plaintiff, he and Troy discussed Plaintiff signing a written statement; Plaintiff asked that he first be allowed to make some phone calls; and he was brought the statement by Troy after Plaintiff made phone calls and was brought to another room. Troy contends that he drafted the statement in Plaintiff's presence (R. 1104, Troy SOF P 43), while Plaintiff states that Troy drafted it in another room. The parties agree that Plaintiff promised to sign the statement after being allowed to make several phone calls. After unsuccessfully attempting to call his father and mother, Plaintiff called his grandmother and godmother, and he briefly spoke to each. Plaintiff also called E. Duke McNeal, a criminal defense attorney. Mr. McNeal refused to come to the station and refused to represent Plaintiff unless he paid a retainer of $10,000. But, McNeal advised Plaintiff not to say or sign anything. Plaintiff stated that, after the calls, he was brought to another interrogation room and handcuffed to the wall. Troy entered the room with the statement. Plaintiff read the first few lines of the statement and refused to sign it. Troy reminded Plaintiff that he had said that he would sign the statement if he was allowed to make phone calls. Plaintiff responded, "I lied," and said that he was not going to sign the statement because it was not true. According to Plaintiff, "[Troy then] grabbed me on my collar, throat, and tried to choke me." Troy then pushed Plaintiff's head or body up against the wall and yelled at Plaintiff that he had written the statement for nothing and that Plaintiff was going to wish that he had signed it because Troy would have officers make up more stuff about Plaintiff. Plaintiff stated that Troy then "stepped back and kicked [Plaintiff] in [his] leg." Plaintiff testified that Troy then "asked me if I wanted to pow wow (fight) with him" to which Plaintiff simply looked at Troy as if he were crazy. Troy's attack and insistence, Plaintiff still refused to sign the statement. Troy then left.
Sometime after Troy left, Plaintiff was charged with murder. The unsigned statement was introduced at Plaintiff's criminal trial. Troy testified at Plaintiff's criminal trial that Plaintiff agreed with the statement's contents, but refused to sign it. Troy then testified as to the statement's contents. The statement indicated that Troy and Detective Madigan were present; the statement does not mention Lacy. The statement conveys the following information: On April 19, 1986, Plaintiff, Eric Caine, and Mike Arbuckle went to the Sanchez house to get guns and drugs. Caine and Arbuckle went inside while Plaintiff waited outside. Plaintiff went inside because they were taking too long. Plaintiff stabbed Mr. Sanchez in the chest and stomach with a knife. Plaintiff got tired of listening to Mrs. Sanchez's crying and stabbed her. Caine ran away while Plaintiff stabbed Mr. Sanchez because Caine was weak and a coward. The statement further stated that Plaintiff was allowed a series of phone calls. Eric Caine, Plaintiff's codefendant and alleged coconspirator, also confessed. Caine testified at trial, as did Plaintiff, that Caine's confession was coerced. Caine stated that a police officer had prepared notes for Caine to sign; the officer told Caine that he could go home if he signed them; and, after Caine refused, the officer hit Caine in the face several times, causing his eardrum to pop. then signed the notes.
Plaintiff was convicted of murdering Vincent and Rafaela Sanchez and was sentenced to death. In 1992, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. In November of 1990, the Office of Professional Standards ("OPS") of the Chicago Police Department issued a report which found that, from 1973 to 1985, there was a pattern of abuse and torture of suspects in Area 2. It is not clear whether claims specifically about Plaintiff's abuse had yet been investigated at that time. On January 10, 2003, former Illinois Governor George Ryan pardoned Plaintiff and three other death row inmates allegedly tortured by Area 2 officers. In June of 2003, Plaintiff initiated this suit against several Area 2 police officers and against former Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, and Assistant State's Attorneys ("ASA") Peter Troy and William Lacy (who is now a Cook County Circuit Court Judge). Plaintiff has settled with all but four of the Defendants. Only Troy, Lacy, Devine, and the State's Attorney's Office remain in the case. Troy and Lacy filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging immunity.
Is Troy entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity with respect to the drafting of the subject statement?
Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, none of Troy's actions leading to the statement placed him in the role of investigator. Troy was not present during Area 2 officers' interrogation of Plaintiff. Troy did not participate in the alleged torture and coercion of Plaintiff. Nor did Troy obtain the confession by withholding medical attention or by other coercive means. Rather, Troy arrived at Area 2 after Plaintiff confessed. Troy was present to memorialize Plaintiff's confession and evaluate the evidence already gathered. Prior to drafting Plaintiff's statement, Troy interviewed Plaintiff about his role in the offense. Troy's actions, at this point, WERE essentially the same as the actions of the prosecutor in Hunt, Andrews, and Boyd, which were previously decided cases about this issue. The only difference in Plaintiff's case was the allegation that Troy himself drafted the statement, as opposed to the statement in Hunt and Andrews, which was recorded by a court reporter. However, there is little, if any, distinction between a prosecutor writing a statement believed to be false and assisting a suspect give a recorded statement believed to be false. Both actions by a prosecutor produce an illegally obtained confession. Plaintiff's allegation that Troy drafted a false confession did not remove Troy's taking of Plaintiff's confession from the realm of prosecutorial immunity. The Court must still determine the role Troy played at the time he drafted the statement. While "a prosecutor's fabrication of false evidence during the preliminary investigation of an unsolved crime" is not protected by absolute immunity, the fabrication of evidence performed while a prosecutor acts within his role as advocate is covered by absolute immunity. At the time Troy prepared the statement, Troy was acting in his role as advocate for the state. It is within the proper role of an advocate for the State to take a court reported statement, as well as to see and hear the defendant give the statement. "The prosecutor acts within his core functions when he evaluates the evidence gathered by police and, in the case of a confession, takes steps to see that the words of the defendant are properly preserved. A holding that would not allow Plaintiff to challenge Troy's taking of the statement, but allows Plaintiff to challenge Troy's drafting of the statement, would run counter to the purpose of absolute immunity. Accordingly, the summary judgment evidence showed that Troy was acting in his role as advocate when he drafted Plaintiff's statement and, thus, Troy was thus entitled to absolute immunity for the claim that he drafted a false statement. The knowing creation of an untrue confession was certainly despicable and possibly criminal, thus allowing for the bringing of criminal charges. However, with respect to § 1983 damages, absolute immunity applies, and the claim against Troy that he drafted a false statement is dismissed. This case presented the dilemma that exists in most prosecutorial immunity cases — alleged deplorable and unconstitutional actions by a prosecutor. As noted by Justice Breyer, quoting Chief Judge Learned Hand, "a prosecutor's absolute immunity reflects a 'balance' of 'evils.' '[I]t 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.'"