State Immunity No Shield to Federal Prosecution

     CHICAGO (CN) – A Wisconsin drug trafficker who was granted state-level immunity for testifying about his drug activities in a missing persons investigation can still be prosecuted by federal authorities, the 7th Circuit ruled.



     In November 2004, Amos Mortier, a major marijuana distributor in the Madison area, disappeared. Wisconsin prosecutors opened a John Doe proceeding to determine whether a crime had been committed and subpoenaed Mortier’s known drug associates to testify.
     Some of those subpoenaed “appeared before the John Doe judge, asserted their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and forced the prosecutor to ask the judge to convene as a court and grant formal immunity in order to compel their testimony,” 7th Circuit Judge Diane Sykes summarized.
     But Jacob Stadfeld instead accepted an oral nonprosecution agreement from Assistant States Attorney Corey Stephan in exchange for truthful testimony regarding his involvement in Mortier’s drug-distribution network.
     Stadfeld’s hired attorneys erroneously advised that the ASA had given him complete immunity from both future state and federal prosecution.
     In 2008, Stadfeld’s statements before the John Doe judge were used to indict him for conspiracy to distribute 100 or more kilograms of marijuana.
     Despite motions to suppress, the statements were presented as evidence at trial. Stadfeld was convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison.
     On appeal, Stadfeld argued that his statements were involuntary and, in the alternative, that the bad legal advice he received amounted to ineffective-assistance-of-counsel.
     The 7th Circuit rejected both arguments.
     “An obvious flaw in Stadfeld’s argument is that it rests on the mistaken advice of his lawyers, not conduct by law-enforcement officers,” Sykes wrote, noting that for a confession to be involuntary under the Due Process clause, coercive police activity must have occurred.
     “Neither the state prosecutor nor the John Doe investigators made any threats or false promises of leniency to obtain Stadfeld’s statements. They did not resort to subterfuge or deceptive interrogation tactics to get him to talk.”
     Despite the bad advice, Stadfeld cannot make an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, the three-judge panel determined.
     Such claims are only viable after the right to counsel attaches “at or after the initiation of adversary judicial criminal proceedings-whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment.”
     Sykes wrote, “A John Doe proceeding does not begin the adversarial process against a criminal accused. Rather, the role of the John Doe is to gather evidence from witnesses in order to determine whether a criminal complaint should be filed or whether no crime was committed. … Although the John Doe statute permits witnesses to have counsel present during their testimony, the proceeding remains nonadversarial and counsel’s role is strictly limited.”
     Finally, because Stadfeld had lied to investigators in his statements, “any reasonable belief in a promise of immunity vanished,” Sykes wrote. Stadfeld was thus not entitled to have the incriminating statements suppressed.
     The 7th Circuit also rejected Stadfeld’s other challenges to evidence presented at trial and the court’s attribution of all 2,000 pounds of marijuana to him at sentencing.

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