Briscoe v. LaHue
Annotate this Case
460 U.S. 325 (1983)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983)
Briscoe v. LaHue
Argued November 9, 1982
Decided March 7, 1983
460 U.S. 325
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
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.