U.S. v. GONZALEZ DE MODESTI Nos. Crim 01-248(SEC), Crim 01-250(SEC).
145 F.Supp.2d 171 (2001)
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Velda GONZALEZ DE MODESTI, Yasmin Mejias Lugo, Defendants.
United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.
June 12, 2001.
Jorge E. Vega-Pacheco, U.S. Attorney's Office District of P.R., Criminal Division, Hato Rey, PR, for plaintiff.
Rosa N. Bell-Bayron, Rio Piedras, PR, Marco A. Rigau, San Juan, PR, Eliseo Roques-Arroyo, San Juan, PR, for defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
CASELLAS, District Judge.
On April 28, 2001, the Defendants herein were arrested and charged with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1382. The Informations allege that:
(Docket # 1). Pending are Defendants' motions requesting dismissal of the Informations,
In their motions Defendants submit the following factual summary of this case.
Defendants argue that their detention, arrest, and possible prosecution are a violation of the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
The Court will first address the source of Defendants' claim of immunity, which they believe arises from the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, P.R. CONST. art. III, § 14.
The concept of dual sovereignty lies at the heart of the constitutional relationship between the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the United States of America. In the case of United States v. Vega Figueroa, 984 F.Supp. 71 (D.P.R.1997), this Court examined the constitutional status of the Commonwealth, and specifically held that the concept of dual sovereignty exists in Puerto Rico. In Vega Figueroa, a federal defendant had been previously acquitted in the Puerto Rico Superior Court of murder, attempted murder, and various weapons charges arising from the same acts for which he was indicted in federal court. He
In agreeing with the Supreme Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals, this Court concluded that "[e]ver since , a dual-sovereignty relationship has been established, whereby the Federal Government exercises its sovereignty within its reserved sphere of power, and the Commonwealth government, acting not unlike a state government, exercises its sovereignty within the sphere expressly determined by its own Constitution." Id. at 78.
The question then arises whether in this case the Defendants are situated in the sphere of power reserved for the Federal Government, or the sphere of power reserved to the Commonwealth Government as provided by its own Constitution. The Court believes that based on the well established concept of dual sovereignty between the United States and Puerto Rico,
By its very terms the Federal Constitution's Speech or Debate clause is not applicable in cases involving state legislators. See Lake Country Estates, 440 U.S. at 404, 99 S.Ct. 1171. However, state legislators have been able to invoke the protection of common law or official immunity in limited circumstances in civil cases. See Tenney v. Brandhove, 341 U.S. 367, 71 S.Ct. 783, 95 L.Ed. 1019 (1951) (holding that a Senate Fact-Finding Committee was acting in a sphere of legitimate legislative activity by calling the plaintiff before it and examining him, and the civil rights statute did not create civil liability for such conduct); Romero-Barcelo v. Hernandez-Agosto, 75 F.3d 23 (1st Cir.1996) (holding that absolute immunity from suit for civil damages under § 1983 does not necessarily immunize legislator or his aide from federal criminal prosecution; however, legislator is immunized from suit for damages under § 1983); Colon Berrios v. Hernandez Agosto, 716 F.2d 85 (1983) (holding that the conduct of the legislature in holding televised hearings was within the sphere of legitimate legislative immunity and, therefore, was protected by the immunity defense). Therefore, the issue before the Court is whether Defendants can invoke the doctrine of official immunity to dismiss the criminal informations filed against them.
"The doctrine of official immunity is well recognized, as is the fact that its extent varies, depending upon the office of the individual and the circumstances under which he seeks it." Di Carlo, 565 F.2d at 806 (citing Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564, 79 S.Ct. 1335, 3 L.Ed.2d 1434 (1959)). "Unquestionably it applies, and is to be applied by the federal courts, to state legislators." Id. (citing Tenney 341 U.S. at 367, 71 S.Ct. 783). Unfortunately for Defendants, unlike constitutional immunity, the Supreme Court has not allowed official immunity to shield a state legislator from a federal criminal prosecution.
In the case of United States v. Gillock, 445 U.S. 360, 100 S.Ct. 1185, 63 L.Ed.2d 454 (1980), a state senator from Tennessee was indicted on five counts of obtaining money under color of official right in violation
In deciding the issue, the Court first examined the interrelated rationales that underlie the Speech or Debate Clause: first, "the need to avoid intrusion by the Executive or the Judiciary into the affairs of a coequal branch...." Id. (citing Eastland v. United States Servicemen's Fund, 421 U.S. 491, 502-503, 95 S.Ct. 1813, 44 L.Ed.2d 324 (1975)). This rationale, "resting solely on the separation of powers doctrine, gives no support to the grant of a privilege to state legislators in federal criminal prosecutions ... [because] we do not have the struggles for power between the federal and state systems such as inspired the need for the Speech or Debate Clause as a restraint on the Federal Executive to protect federal legislators." Id. at 370, 100 S.Ct. 1185. The Court also rejected Gillock's argument that principles of comity should provide the speech or debate type privilege to state legislators. In rejecting this argument, the Court stated that "... federal interference in the state legislative process is not on the same constitutional footing with the interference of one branch of the Federal Government in the affairs of a coequal branch." Id. (citing Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 82 S.Ct. 691, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962)).
The second rationale in support of a Constitutional Speech or Debate Clause "is the need to insure legislative independence." Id. Gillock relied heavily on this rationale by citing the Tenney case where the Supreme Court decided that state legislators were immune from civil suits for alleged violations of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 341 U.S. at 367, 71 S.Ct. 783. In distinguishing the cases, the Court held "first, Tenney was a civil action brought by a private plaintiff to vindicate private rights. Moreover, the cases in this Court which have recognized an immunity from civil suit for state officials have presumed the existence of federal criminal liability as a restraining factor on the conduct of state officials." Gillock, 445 U.S. at 372, 100 S.Ct. 1185. The Court then explained that in O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 94 S.Ct. 669, 38 L.Ed.2d 674 (1974), it had similarly held:
Gillock, 445 U.S. at 372, 100 S.Ct. 1185.
As is evident from the above analysis, even if the Court were to agree with Defendants' dubious argument, and agree that their actions were legislative in nature, their requests for legislative or official immunity are unsuccessful. The Court concludes, therefore, as did the Gillock Court, "that although principles of comity command careful consideration, [the] cases disclose that where important federal interests are at stake, as in the
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