What does Immunity mean in a legal case?

I just heard on the news about a case of two black youths being held down by cops while they allowed the police dogs to bite them.

The lawyers said that their filing a law suit since no actions were taken by the police after a complaint was filed (big surprise there :rolleyes: ).

Anyway, the reported went on to say that the DA has granted the officers immunity. What does that mean? I hope it doesnt mean what I think it means: that they are immune from prosecution.

Probably it does – except in cases of egregious wrongdoing, the police are presumed to have some latitude in how they interpret the situation, enough that an error of judgment in doing their duty does not expose them to prosecution.

But note that he cannot grant them immunity from a civil suit. (Also note that a Federal prosecutor, a State Attorney General, and a few other folks can ignore what the D.A. does and institute a prosecution if he/they feel(s) it to be warranted.)

It means exactly that. It works like this.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, no-one can be compelled to give evidence against himself. So if a grand jury is investigating a complaint and you are hauled before it to testify, you can refuse to testify if your evidence would incriminate you.

The DA can deprive you of this protection by granting you immunity from prosecution (even if you have not asked for it). Since you cannot now be prosecuted, you have no basis for refusing to give evidence.

In practice, of course, the DA will only do this if he is bloody sure that you have evidence which will secure the conviction of someone else. So (a) it’s generally only the small fry who are granted immunity and (b) it is usually by agreement, since they have already told the DA what evidence they are willing to give in return for immunity, and © it may be part of a bigger deal where you are granted immunity on more serious charges and have a plea-bargain on lesser charges and (d) as Polycarp has noted, you can still be sued in relation to the same matter, notwithstanding your immunity from civil prosecution.

Without having heard the report, I’m wondering if the DA actually granted the cops immunity from prosecution or if s/he simply declined to press charges. I can’t imagine why the DA would immunize them unless there were charges being pressed against the youths which, if they were actually being held down and bitten by dogs would be a really odd move.

This may be more detail than you’re looking for, but there are two kinds of immunity. There’s use immunity, which means that your compelled testimony can’t be used against you in any criminal prosecution (except for perjury). Transactional immunity applies only to the crime about which you’re being questioned (so if you testify about a crime other than the one you’re on the stand for you can be prosecuted for it).

There may also be some civil immunity for state actors if the alleged bad act if the act is performed within the scope of the person’s duties, but police officers holding someone down while dogs bite them would fall outside that scope.

IANAL etc. and the answer may vary by jurisdiction.

But dosn’t use immunity only apply to YOUR testimomy, If A is given use immunity and testifys aginst B, then his word can be used to convice B. But if B is also given use immunity and testifys aginst A, then his word can be used to convice A.

So it be usefull , it would have to be immunity from any crime one talks about, and not just from useing your testimony aginst you.

(I sure hope I worded that OK)


Spelling and grammer subject to change without notice.

Use immunity does protect the witness from prosecution for any crime s/he talks about in the compelled testimony. It also protects against any evidence that comes directly or indirectly from the testimony. If one is granted use immunity to testify about Crime A then the DA can’t turn around, get a second witness to testify about the same crime and then use the second witness to prosecute the first.

Thanks guys, very informative.

What struck me, though, about the DA granting the cops immunity is that it apepars it was done immeadiately after they were threatened with legal action.

Shouldn’t the decision to grant police officers immunity from prosecution be done AFTER and investigation is conducted by internal affairs? Sure the DA must have reason to believe the cops should be made immune, right??