Testimony before grand juries is serious. It generally results in the issuance of felony charges and a warrant authorizing the arrest of the person charged. Testifying falsely before a grand jury so that an innocent person is indicted and arrested can really ruin the victim’s day. However, a recent 6th Circuit Court case eloquently demonstrates that you can’t recover damages for malicious prosecution or for violation of your civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983 from the witness who testified falsely in the grand jury hearing.
A police officer, Jones, falsely testified to a grand jury that Amy Sanders was the woman who had sold his informant illegal drugs. Ms. Sanders was indicted and charged with criminal activity in drugs and subsequently arrested. The district attorney promptly dismissed the charges against Ms. Sanders on learning that Jones’ testimony identifying her as the woman who had sold his informant the drugs had been false.
Grand jury witnesses are, however, entitled to absolute immunity from civil liability for their testimony. Since Ms. Sanders could not claim damages against Jones for his false grand jury testimony without using that testimony against him, she could not overcome the presumption that the grand jury indictment against Ms. Sanders was reasonable. In short, she could not make any legal claim against Jones for his false testimony regardless of how it had damaged her.