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09-1878 Hill v. Coppleson

Civil Rights
Prosecutorial immunity

Where it is not clear whether a prosecutor was acting in the role of an advocate or an investigator, the court lacks jurisdiction to review a district court’s holding that the prosecutor is not immune from a claim that he was coerced into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit.

“Rogers now asks this court to reassess whether he is entitled to absolute or qualified immunity, both of which depend on issues of fact that the district court has correctly determined are in dispute. With respect to absolute immunity, a prosecutor is absolutely immune from § 1983 civil liability when he ‘acts as an advocate for the state but not when his acts are investigative and unrelated to the preparation and initiation of judicial proceedings.’ Smith v. Power, 346 F.3d 740, 742 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993)). The question of whether Rogers was acting in the role of an advocate or an investigator depends in part on whether probable cause for Hill’s arrest existed before Rogers’s arrival at the police station. See Buckley, 509 U.S. at 274 (‘A prosecutor neither is, nor should consider himself to be, an advocate before he has probable cause to have anyone arrested.’). And the probable cause question turns on a disputed issue of fact concerning Hill’s confession, which was the only piece of evidence implicating him.

If Hill confessed to the crimes before Rogers arrived, then the detectives likely did have probable cause to arrest him, which counsels toward a finding that Rogers was acting in a purely prosecutorial role for which he would be entitled to absolute immunity. On the other hand, a determination that Hill did not confess until his meeting with Rogers would indicate that Rogers was likely acting in the role of an investigator searching for more evidence, activities to which only the qualified immunity analysis applies. As the district court found, whether Rogers arrived before Hill confessed is a disputed issue of fact that requires making credibility determinations and weighing the evidence, which the court could not do on summary judgment. Because we cannot resolve the absolute immunity question without resolving this factual dispute, we do not have jurisdiction over Hill’s appeal of that issue.”


09-1878 Hill v. Coppleson

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, St. Eve, J., Williams, J.

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