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Absolute Prosecutorial Immunity Denied

Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 (B)(6) for absolute prosecutorial immunity.

Stephanie Flagler, a victim of domestic violence from her ex-boyfriend Brandon Becker, was to testify as the complaining witness. Just days prior to trial, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Trainor spoke with Becker's ex-wife and became convinced that Becker had encouraged Flagler to leave the state to avoid testifying.

The following day, Flagler was arrested at her home. She filed a complaint and claimed that Trainor made false statement to secure the warrant. She stated the vacation was previously scheduled, and she would have returned the day before trial. She also stated that Trainor had made no contact through her home, work, and school address.

Fulton County Supreme Justice Richard T. Aulisi conducted the material witness hearing where Trainor neglected to mention Flagler had called the day before to confirm her testifying. Instead, Trainor recounted the ex-wife's conversation, claimed Flagler was non-respondent to phone calls, avoided service of subpoena, and was a possible flight risk. Finding reasonable cause, the judge issued a material witness arrest warrant.

After Flagler was taken into custody, Trainor made defamatory statements to the press that Flagler had been hiding out and had Becker's ex-wife record phone calls without Flagler's consent.

When Flagler was released on bail the next day, her cell phone was confiscated by the Sheriff's Department and attempted to access her voicemail. After Becker's conviction, Trainor still refused to return the cell phone.

When the District Court dismissed Flagler's federal claims, she appealed. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, prosecutors were generally have immunity from liabilities.

The Second Circuit held that Trainor did not have absolute immunity from liability for making false statements when he provided a "Certification for Determination of Probable Cause" to secure an arrest warrant. This false sworn statement was not associated with a prosecutor's duty to advocate. By testifying, Trainor acted as a witness rather than a lawyer. The Second Court also held that the false statements made to the press, accessing voicemail without consent, and persuading the ex-wife to record conversations did not shield Trainor with absolute immunity on the defamation claim. The Second Court vacated and remanded the District Court's ruling. See: Flagler v. Trainor, 663 F.3d 543 (2d Cir. 2011).

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Related legal case

Flagler v. Trainor