Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259 (1993)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit

No. 91-7849. Argued February 22, 1993—Decided June 24, 1993

Petitioner Buckley sought damages, under 42 U. S. C. 1983, from respondent prosecutors for fabricating evidence during the preliminary investigation of a highly publicized rape and murder in Illinois and making false statements at a press conference announcing the return of an indictment against him. He claimed that when three separate lab studies failed to make a reliable connection between a bootprint at the murder site and his boots, respondents obtained a positive identification from one Robbins, who allegedly was known for her willingness to fabricate unreliable expert testimony. Thereafter, they convened a grand jury for the sole purpose of investigating the murder, and 10 months later, respondent Fitzsimmons, the State's Attorney, announced the indictment at the news conference. Buckley was arrested and, unable to meet the bond, held in jail. Robbins provided the principal evidence against him at trial, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict. When Robbins died before Buckley's retrial, all charges were dropped and he was released after three years of incarceration. In the 1983 action, the District Court held that respondents were entitled to absolute immunity for the fabricated evidence claim but not for the press conference claim. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that they had absolute immunity on both claims, theorizing that prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity when out-of-court acts cause injury only to the extent a case proceeds in court, but are entitled only to qualified immunity if the constitutional wrong is complete before the case begins. On remand from this Court, it found that nothing in Burns v. Reed, 500 U. S. 478—in which the Court held that prosecutors had absolute immunity for their actions in participating in a probable-cause hearing but not in giving advice to the police—undermined its initial holding.

Held: Respondents are not entitled to absolute immunity. Pp. 267-278. (a) Certain immunities were so well established when 1983 was enacted that this Court presumes that Congress would have specifically so provided had it wished to abolish them. Most public officials are entitled only to qualified immunity. However, sometimes their actions fit within a common-law tradition of absolute immunity. Whether they do is determined by the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it, Forrester v. White, 484 U. S. 219, 229,


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