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Karla Giraldo Lawsuit: DAs Have Absolute Immunity

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that two Queens County prosecutors are entitled to absolute immunity in Karla Giraldo's civil rights lawsuit.

If you read the Post or the Daily News, Giraldo's name may ring a bell. Giraldo's boyfriend, former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, brought her to a hospital emergency room in 2008 for treatment. She had a laceration above her left eye that required 20 stitches.

Giraldo claimed she was injured as a result of an "accident" that occurred when Monserrate tripped while bringing her a glass of water, causing shards to fly and cut her forehead. Hospital staff suspected that she was really a domestic violence victim — despite her express denials —-- and contacted the police.

Monserrate was subsequently prosecuted on domestic violence charges. Queens Supreme Court Justice William Erlbaum acquitted him of the felony charges of slashing Giraldo with a broken glass, but convicted him of misdemeanor assault.

At trial, prosecutors introduced a surveillance tape showing Monserrate "pulling Giraldo away from a neighbor's door after he allegedly slashed her face in a jealous rage," according to NBC-New York. While that footage seems to have left little doubt in Judge Erlbaum's mind that something was amiss, Giraldo still pushed forward with a civil rights lawsuit against NYPD officers and hospital staffers, alleging that they forced her to accuse Monserrate of domestic violence.

Giraldo claimed that she was taken from the hospital to 105th precinct (where she was kept for five hours), and then to the Queens District Attorney's office, where she was "interrogated" by Queens County Assistant District Attorneys Scott Evan Kessler and Keshia Espinal for two hours against her will. Giraldo's lawsuit alleged that she was "unlawfully detained, held against her will and maliciously interrogated" in violation of her right to be free from unreasonable seizures.

Kessler and Espinal asserted absolute immunity as prosecutors.

Applying its "functional approach" to the immunity analysis, the Second Circuit asked whether a reasonable prosecutor would view the prosecutors' acts as reasonably within the functions of a prosecutor. (If the acts were within those functions, absolute immunity would apply despite allegations of malicious or corrupt intent. Otherwise, the absolute immunity would not be absolute.)

Here, the appellate court found that the prosecutors' acts in Giraldo's case were well within their legitimate functions as prosecutors. Monserrate had been arrested prior to Kessler's and Espinal's interview of Giraldo. Once the arrest took place, the prosecutors had to quickly make legal decisions at the core of the prosecutorial function -- pursuit of the charges, arraignment, bail, etc. They interviewed Giraldo in preparation of a court proceeding in which the prosecutor would act as an advocate, and Giraldo was "obviously an important witness."

According to the Second Circuit, a reasonable prosecutor easily could have viewed a first-hand interview to assess Giraldo's self-propelled-shattering-glass story as necessary.

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