Qualified Immunity

Louisiana Prosecutors Say They Can't Be Sued Over the Fake Subpoenas They Used To Pressure Witnesses Into Testifying

In several cases, victims received higher bonds than criminal defendants and were forced to serve jail time.

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Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro issued fake subpoenas to pressure victims and witnesses to testify. Now facing a lawsuit, the Louisiana prosecutor is arguing that the practice falls under the umbrella of absolute immunity—the doctrine that says prosecutors cannot face civil action for carrying out their official duties.

The good news is that there's a strong chance the courts won't buy it.

The Lens uncovered Cannizzaro's tactic in April 2017. He would send people notifications telling them to appear in court or face fines or jail time. The documents were neither authorized by a judge nor issued by a county clerk, the proper channels for subpoenas. Cannizzaro's office was producing them itself. Worse yet: Even though the subpoenas were unlawful, he really did jail people who didn't obey them.

In October 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union sued Cannizzaro and some of his staffers on behalf of the people who received the subpoenas. According to the suit, Cannizzaro's office sought high bonds for those jailed for refusing to obey the orders, often higher than the bond set for the criminal defendants in the related cases. The victim in one domestic violence case was forced to spend five days in jail on a $100,000 bond; she appeared in court in an orange jumpsuit and shackles. Her alleged abuser was treated more leniently: He paid a $3,500 secured bond, returned home until his court date, and appeared before the court in his own clothes.

A rape victim, similarly, spent 12 days in jail. A child sex trafficking victim spent 89 days in jail, including Christmas and New Year's Day.

This week, Cannizzaro's lawyers asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the suit, arguing that absolute immunity protected them from legal action. A ruling has not been issued yet, but the judges repeatedly expressed doubts about this argument, noting that the prosecutors operated outside of their realm of authority.

About 40 former prosecutors and attorney generals joined several civil liberties groups, such as the Cato Institute, in a 2019 friend of the court brief arguing there is "no justification for granting absolute immunity" for a fraudulent practice.

"When prosecutors fail to conduct themselves ethically in their interactions with victims and witnesses," the brief says, "it undermines confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole, makes victims less likely to report crime, and discourages witnesses from coming forth to provide evidence."

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  1. Clearly this guy is trying to keep Nancy from being the most despicable person on the planet.

    1. Mrs. Reagan has passed.

      1. Oh, please. That was really weak.

    2. Sandusky’s dead??

  2. Holy crap. That’s dirty even for Louisiana.

    1. Someone in Louisiana law enforcement right now is saying, “Hold my beer”.

      1. Someone in the FBI you mean.

        1. Embrace the power of “and”.

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  6. the Louisiana prosecutor is arguing that the practice falls under the umbrella of absolute immunity—the doctrine that says prosecutors cannot face civil action for carrying out their official duties.

    “Very well. Face *criminal* action, then.”

    *** pounds gavel ***

    1. Yeah he should be facing false imprisonment charges at the least along with the civil suit.

      1. Sounds like kidnapping.

      2. What he should be facing is extracurricular justice! Because he was operating outside the law, so should those who would like to punish his sweet little persona. I suggest someone follow him around and let the air out of his auto tires at every possible opportunity … for about year. This would just be for “starters,” of course.

        1. It just so happens that woodchippers LOVE extracurricular justice.

      3. If he did in fact jail people for bogus orders that weren’t affirmed by a judge, then yeah, I can’t imagine how he wouldn’t be facing jail time on top of being disbarred, but then the world so rarely has justice in it, so perhaps he’ll just shrug it off.

    2. We can only hope.

      I hope he gets disbarred, though I don’t really expect it.

  7. OT: James Carville is “scared to death” of the November 2020 election.

    “The fate of the world depends on the Democrats getting their shit together and winning in November.”

    The space alien goes cosmic.

    1. “Eighteen percent of the population controls 52 Senate seats,” Carville said. “We’ve got to be a majoritarian party. The urban core is not gonna get it done. What we need is power! Do you understand? That’s what this is about.”

      I thought monkey man had a law degree, and yet he does not seem to understand how the Senate, as opposed to the House, is comprised. Something something about equal representation and preventing a tyranny of the majority. You know, as a bulwark against raw power.

      1. Tyranny of the majority, tyranny of the minority… it’s all still tyranny.

    2. James Carville is from Louisiana.

    3. It has been a fun week hasn’t it? 🙂

    4. “I’ll take an ideological fanatic over a career criminal any day.”

      *insert Nathan Fillion meme here*

    5. I would mock him, but I lost friends over not supporting Romney in 2012 because Obama was going to end America.

      1. To be ‘fair’ to Obumbles, he did try. He just wasn’t really all that good at the Washington game. Trump, OTOH, is VERY good at the Washington game. Which can be good OR bad. Faced with towering outrage and concerted opposition, he has managed to move his agenda forward ANYWAY. Which lesson the Democrats seem determined to not learn. Trump fights back. Too many of their plans seem to depend on his not doing so.

        1. Because there’s a long and distinguished history of Team Red rolling over at the first hurl of “racist!”

          T doesn’t fall for that shit.

  8. So if the judge rules against him, can the prosecutor have the judge arrested for interfering with the prosecutor’s official duties? If the prosecutor needs more financial resources to carry out his duties, can he go rob a bank? If he needs a ride to the courthouse can he steal a car? Are there any limits at all to what a prosecutor can do in the name of doing his job?

    1. Seems legit.

    2. Yep, just so long as he doesn’t try to stop cops from shooting dogs, he can do what he wants.

  9. Those other prosecutors, who oppose this prosecutor’s tactics, simply suffer from…

    …you know what’s coming…

    …subpoenas envy.

    1. I felt it coming and it still got all over my face.

      1. Was bukkake juice your nickname in college?

    2. Upvote. Mine hasn’t worked (to my or anyone else’s satisfaction) since I turned 65.

    3. clap…clap…clap…

    1. Well, sure, if you’re not connected to a local courthouse clique and simply forge subpoenas, that would be a crime.

  10. Where is the state bar association in this?

    1. bbq @Huey Long’s backyard

  11. >>>Attorney. Issued fake subpoenas.

    gotta violate *something* even under that ridiculous French Law they abide by over there

    1. that ridiculous French Law they abide by over there

      Da Napohleeahnick Code?

  12. “District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro”

    Reason left something out.

    “(D)”

  13. How does one go to jail on crooked paper? Doesn’t the jailer look at it and say, “This is bogus.”? What kind of security does a jail have to keep unauthorized prisoners out? Seriously, what are the mechanics of this? Who calls the cops?

    1. It’s Louisiana. You can end up in jail with a wink and a nod.

    2. These guys are less well paid and less well vetted than the guys who were guarding Epstein…

    3. You’re assuming the jailer can read.

    4. Bring in the state police, or the feds, if necessary.

  14. Just when it seemed my contempt for “law enforcement” couldn’t go any lower.

    I know this site is famously in favor of the use of a wood chipper, but this makes me think pencil sharpener…

  15. Fake subpoenas from prosecutors? How can this happen? The truth is that this is a common practice, also used in other states. Colorado prosecutors use similar practices to intimidate witnesses into confessing that they have been served with subpoenas, when they have not been served, and they are then on notice that they will be jailed if they fail to appear. It would be interesting to learn whether these kinds of illegal witness intimidation practices have been shared among DAs nationwide.

  16. So Cannizzaro can’t be sued–or so he claims. But can he be woodchippered?

  17. Has there been a previous court case where this practice has been found an unconstitutional violation of a citizen’s rights?
    Obviously absolute and qualified immunity ought to apply here.

    Oh, I forgot my [sarcasm][/sarcasm] tags.

  18. Are you or your “representatives” threatening someone with an initiation of violence today?
    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn , The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

    1. “We told him about how our land had been stolen and our people were dying. When we finished, he shook our hands and said, “endeavor to persevere!” They stood us in a line: John Jumper, Chili McIntosh, Buffalo Hump, Jim Buckmark, and me — I am Lone Watie. They took our pictures. And the newspapers said, “Indians vow to endeavor to persevere.” We thought about it for a long time, “Endeavor to persevere.” And when we had thought about it long enough, we declared war on the Union.”

  19. It’s “attorneys general,” not “attorney generals.” Christ.

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  23. So it is within the purview of a prosecutor to be a lying, low life scumbag? I think this guy is Probably mixing his personal life with his professional life.

  24. I was a prosecutor for over 21 years, now retired. I wish this story surprised me.

    When I was a very new prosecutor (in the late 1990s), an investigator asked me to subpoena records in a drug investigation. I told him I could only do that if we had an active case in court or a grand jury conducting an investigation (we had neither). He told me that I was an idiot and pointed out that DEA and FBI agents could issue investigative subpoenas without a court or grand jury case. I said that they have a federal statute authorizing that, and that my state didn’t. He went to my boss (the elected prosecutor), who told me to create a document called a “subpoena” that looked like a real “subpoena” but wasn’t, sign it, and send it out. I told him I wouldn’t, as he was asking me to do something that didn’t pass the smell test. He did it himself, and I never trusted him again.

    Later in my career, in a different prosecutor’s office, we invited in someone from the state victim services bureaucracy to speak at one of our monthly trainings, and she told us that we should help out victims whose bosses didn’t want to give them time off to come to court by issuing them a “courtesy subpoena” ordering them to come to court even though we had no intention of calling the as a witness for the particular hearing. I told her that she was asking me to commit fraud, and that I was appalled that she (a lawyer herself!) could possibly think what she was suggesting was ethical.

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  27. Another story about a typical and representative corrupt District Attorney doing what prosecutors do. Lie, steal, cheat and show open contempt for known laws while imprisoning citizens for new interpretations of existing laws they make up on the spot and claim you should have known about.

    This has always been my rub with Reason and many libertarians. They correctly identify the crime within the criminal injustice system, but then expect, almost all examples to the contrary, for someone other magic government official (usually a judge) to hold the other criminal government official accountable.

    The “honest judges” myth is getting tired and has beed dead for over 50 years. Setting aside how notoriously corrupt the 5th circuit is even by low judicial standards, judges are primarily there to declare police and prosecutors crimes legal after the fact. The whole reason police and prosecutors show open contempt for the law is precisely because they know judge will cover there tracks.

    When you can identify the cancer that is willing to help you find a cure for cancer, I will believe in the judge that holds other government officials accountable.

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  32. Does Louisiana still have laws explicitly forbidding jury nullification?

  33. The Louisiana prosecutors had no reason to expect that they were not protected by absolute immunity. see:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connick_v._Thompson

    In this case the supreme court held that a prosecutor who framed* an innocent man and had him sentenced to death could not be sued – absolute immunity applied.

    *Framed in this case meant that they had proof that he was not guilty in the form of a blood test the excluded him as the perpetrator. They withheld that evidence.

    What does that mean? It means they will be protected by absolute immunity in this case. Established case law is that they can frame someone for capital murder and not be sued. Fake subpoenas are orders of magnitude less heinous and illegal than framing someone for capital murder. Therefore, even if the court wishes to change that precedent, they will not be able to apply it to this case.

  34. Oh, and the guy from that sentinel case is dead now. Had 10 years of freedom – dying at 55. But never got justice.

    Nobody even got fired over it. He was a couple of months away from his scheduled execution when his innocence project team found the proof that he had been railroaded into a false conviction.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/04/obituaries/john-thompson-cleared-after-14-years-on-death-row-dies-at-55.html

    1. Money quote:

      “If I’d spilled hot coffee on myself, I could have sued the person who served me the coffee,” he said. “But I can’t sue the prosecutors who nearly murdered me.”

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  40. The Doctrine of Absolute immunity is what crooked prosecutors stand behind when they withold exculpatory evidence that sees Innocent people got to prison and or be executed.
    Decades ago Canada’s supreme court in the Case Regina Vs Stynchcombe mandated that withholding evidence, any evidence mandated that prosecutors and police could go to Jail.
    Not mush good stuff comes out of Canada but that is a law needed in the USA.

  41. Suit!???? How about prison time and maybe a public hanging!!!! At the very least he should be charged with exceeding his jurisdiction, acting outside his authority, fraud under the commission of an oath of office and false imprisonment.
    The first act outside his authority, his office was vacant & an immunity that went with it was destroyed instantly.
    Hang him for domestic terrorism.

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