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Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision | Ensuring Public Safety for the 21st Century

Bench Book - 5.3.4 Judicial Immunity

Judges have absolute immunity from liability as long as they are performing a judicial act and there is not a clear absence of all jurisdiction. Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978). A judge is not deprived of absolute immunity from liability for damages because an action he or she took was in error, illegal, or even done maliciously. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991). Judicial immunity offers protection from suits for money damages, but it will not necessarily bar prospective injunctive relief. Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522 (1984).

Under that framework, a federal court deemed a sentencing judge absolutely immune from a Compact offender’s suit alleging that the judge’s sentence violated the offender’s rights by preventing him from transferring to his home state of Alabama. Flinn v. Jones, No. 3:17cv653- LC-CJK, 2018 WL 3372043, at *1, *3 (N.D. Fla. June 27, 2018).

Judicial immunity is not limited to judges; it can extend to others who perform functions “intimately related to” or that are “an integral part of” the judicial process. Ashbrook v. Hoffman, 617 F.2d 474 (7th Cir. 1980). For example, a hearing officer holding ICAOS preliminary violation hearings was deemed to have absolute judicial immunity to the extent that she was performing a function previously assigned to judges. Brock v. Wash. Dep’t of Corr., No. C08-5167RBL, 2009 WL 3429096, at *1, *9 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 20, 2009).

Judicial immunity can, in certain circumstances, extend to probation and parole officers. For example, an officer might have absolute judicial immunity for activities related to the preparation of a pre-sentencing report, Burkes v. Callion, 433 F.2d 318 (9th Cir. 1970), or when taking actions necessary to carry out and enforce the conditions of probation imposed by the court, see Acevedo v. Pima Cty. Adult Prob.Dep’t, 690 P.2d 38 (Ariz. 1984). More generally, it has been said that probation and parole officers are absolutely immune from suits challenging conduct intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process. Copus v. City of Edgerton, 151 F.3d 646 (7th Cir. 1998) (probation officer).

However, not all officer duties will be accorded judicial immunity. In Grayson v. Kansas, No. 06-2375-KHV, 2007 WL 1259990, at *1 (D. Kan. Apr. 30, 2007), a Compact offender sued probation officials in the receiving state under Section 1983 for violating his due process rights. The state’s ICAOS administrator, deputy administrator, and two probation/parole officers argued that they were entitled to absolute judicial immunity from liability stemming from the performance of their duties related to the judicial process. The court disagreed, noting that the functions of a parole officer were too far removed from the judicial process to be accorded absolute immunity. Id. at *7 (citing Mee v. Ortega, 967 F.2d 423 (10th Cir. 1992)); see also Russ v. Uppah, 972 F.2d 300 (10th Cir. 1992).

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