In addition to ruling 5-4 this week to allow prison strip searches for minor offenses, they now have ruled that government witnesses -- informants -- can lie to Grand Juries and, in so doing, will be immune from civil lawsuits by the wrongfully accused.
Justice Alito concurred with the strip search opinion above, and he is at the forefront of this current ruling, which I believe sets a horrible precedent that lying even to a Grand Jury carries no penalty whatsoever.
The ruling makes an argument that Grand Jury cases often involve violent criminal elements, which seek to go after witnesses, and that civil lawsuits would only seek to publish their identity, putting witnesses in harm's way. Furthermore, Alito argued that suits could deliberately be filed specifically to uncover a particular identity.
While this particular reasoning seems logical at first glance, the case upon which this ruling was established was not one where the above scenario would apply. In other words, the precedent-setting case is one that establishes the broadest possible framework. The case is Rehberg vs. Paul in which:
The civil suit had targeted an investigator for a Georgia district attorney who testified that accountant Charles Rehberg had harassed officials at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Rehberg claims the investigator lied, and he started the investigation as a favor to the hospital after Rehberg sent a series of faxes criticizing its management. The investigator had testified before three grand juries in a matter of months, resulting in three indictments that were each dismissed. (Source)This only illustrates the type of behavior that is bound to take place under such a system of mandated lying: an increasing number of indictments with an increasing number of case dismissals -- once again burdening the judicial system and taxpayers with a growing pool of the wrongfully accused.
While the Supreme Court ruled unanimously, some of my questions are echoed in the first two comments to be received at the ABA Journal website where the ruling was announced:
Am I missing something here? If, hypothetically, a witness was caught lying, and is prosecuted for perjury, the defendant who was wrongly accused/imprisoned wouldn’t have the right to sue? How would barring that defendant the right to sue discourage people from acting as witnesses? If you tell the truth, there should be no reason for you to be afraid of a lawsuit.
Did it ever occur to Justice Alito and his ivory tower colleagues that, through subpoenas, parties can compel witnesses to testify? Immunity only fosters lying. As for perjury, the court should read its own precedents to see the difficulties of prosecution. As the NY Times wrote, this court has fewer judges with practical experience than in history.The U.S. Constitution is a document that is supposed to guarantee that one is innocent until proven guilty. This ruling by the Supreme Court seems to completely invert that concept and give license to false indictments, without recourse to those who have been brought in under some level of presumed guilt. You can read the full opinion here: PDF.