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Supreme Court Case Could Lead to Liability for Officers Making Arrests That Don’t Hold Up

October 10, 2017  | 

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that threatens police officers with financial ruin if they make arrests and the charges don’t hold up.

It began with a disorderly Washington, DC, party. The police made the decision to arrest the partygoers for trespassing.

The charges were later dropped, because it wasn’t clear beyond a reasonable doubt the partygoers knew they were trespassing. But 16 of them turned around and sued the police for false arrest and violating their constitutional rights.

They never claimed the police verbally or physically abused them. They sued simply for having been arrested, cuffed and hauled to the police station. Amazingly, the lower courts slapped the police with nearly $1 million in damages and legal fees — one of numerous recent lower-court decisions making officers personally liable for decisions made on duty.

Twenty-six states and the federal Justice Department are weighing in with a strong warning that allowing the lower-court ruling to stand would have “vast consequences” for law enforcement everywhere. On the other side, the American Civil Liberties Union is pushing to limit or even eliminate the police’s legal immunity. The ACLU wants police to have no room for error, The New York Post reports.

Comments (22)

Displaying 1 - 22 of 22

Steven @ 10/10/2017 5:09 PM

I say we start arresting judges for aiding and abetting criminals when the judges fail to prosecute and imprison known offenders. This slippery slope of Justice is causing a significant erosion of long standing social norms and mores. These are scary times, but those that are changing our country are ultimately going to have to live with the unfortunate mistakes that they are bringing about and though their fate may be a brief moment in history of chaos autonomy it will undoubtedly be followed by real and deadly imperial rule. Nobody learns from history!

kevcopaz @ 10/10/2017 6:38 PM

Obviously this would be the kiss of death of any enforcement at all. Ho3 many times have you arrested people and the city or the county attorney just decided not to file charges for a whole list of reasons, nothing to do with any illegal arrest or lack of action on an officers part. What will happen then? How far would they take this? If it goes to jury and they are found not guilty then is the officer label? IF this sticks then we also have to take away all liability protection for Judges, politicians, prosecutors etc. Then if we fins someone was convicted and later find that it was unjust do we then charge the Judge, prosecutor and the jurors? This is simply stupid and everyone other then a lower court in the DC district of insanity would know that. The ACLU would love this... then there will never be another arrest in the country after that liability is dumped upon police. I guess they get what they want that way, Chaos!.

Stephen @ 10/10/2017 7:36 PM

One way around this ruling, start giving warnings for everything, traffic, narcotics, homicide, etc. Thank goodness i'am retired.

GreyBear @ 10/11/2017 12:58 PM

I too am in many ways glad my career is over. Our country has lost its collective mind these past few years, and I see a potentially violent but nearly unavoidable uprising on the horizon. Just last week on these pages I read of a study that identified the "Ferguson effect"; that officers in areas that have come under attack from protesters and the media have chosen to back away from proactive enforcement, and as a result crime rates in those areas has risen. If this asinine ruling is allowed to stand, it will almost certainly have that same effect across the country. And as for "the ACLU wants police to have no room for error", well, good luck with long as LEOs come from a group known as the human race, there will be errors...but then again, since lawyers are perfect I don't expect them to understand that (not sure where they find some of those folks...).

john @ 10/11/2017 1:21 PM

Unfortunately, too many times it is up to the prosecutor's office to make the decision to pursue a case. Maybe we should hold the prosecutor responsible when a solid case does not get prosecuted. Seen this many times on the federal level.
Police officers have to act on information that they do not have the chance to vet. They don't have to show absolute guilt in order to arrest someone. What if the case is prosecuted and the defendant found not guilty? Will the police still be sued?

Mark @ 10/12/2017 4:55 AM

Why don't we as Leo just quit and allow the criminals do as they please and just protect are own house. If the courts continues to push all of Leo in the corner and threaten about law suites and arrest then we will have no other choice because who wants to go to work everyday with that weighing on your mind much less everything else you have to worry about.

Kate @ 10/12/2017 10:37 AM

WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD ARE YOU THINKING? Our courts and liberal judges are going to be the downfall of this country. God bless our peace officers.

Damien @ 10/12/2017 11:15 AM

If they start pulling this crap, it will be IMPOSSIBLE to recruit new police officers!!!! Prosecutors get convictions all the time on people who are later proven to be innocent. Are we going to sue them personally and destroy their careers for convicting innocent people? It's ridiculous! When police start telling the public they can't arrest people because they might get sued if the case is dismissed... THE PEOPLE need to rise up and get laws passed forbidding such actions!

Cash @ 10/12/2017 11:19 AM

Our DA's office no files on everything that is not a slam dunk. 75% of our dope cases get dropped for no reason. Every department in my county would have to go out of business.

H @ 10/14/2017 10:11 AM

I left police work for a private sector security job. My pay DOUBLED immediately. I also get a BONUS, nights and weekends off. And I can't be sued. My department is hiring 8. Got one applicant. People are done being abused by criminals and the system.

Doug @ 10/14/2017 2:48 PM

Start holding judges accountable for the folks they release. If the police are going to be held accountable if a prosecutor drops a charge, judges and prosecutors should be right in line with them.

AZBIGDOG @ 10/15/2017 8:04 AM

Does that mean if you arrest them for homicide and the prosecutor and the jury and judge only find him guilty of manslaughter they get to sue the officer and the agency?

Rachel @ 10/15/2017 8:15 AM

Drumrolllll.....I don't regret for a split second getting out of Police work. On First hand experience I've worked with liars, truth benders, and false arresters, just for that "stat". Law "Enforcement" has turned into a joke, for law abiding citizens, victims, and criminals alike. I too would sue the jurisdiction for a false arrest. However, these lengths are pretty extreme. LEOs of America, turn a blind eye or you won't have a home to go to or food to feed your family, and clear some space on the award wall in the office for your subpoena, and that local news article blasting you! Good luck out there, and good riddance to the "Justice System"!

john @ 10/21/2017 2:29 PM

Rachel, what agency were you an officer? "liars, truth benders, and false arresters?" Was that acceptable for that agency? Most officers are not liars, truth benders, etc.
As for me, if the public wants me to submit an affidavit for every crime, count on the amount of time for a simple misdemeanor investigation to double, ie. less time for enforcement. Then what if the judge issues a warrant for a charge that is ultimately dropped, would the judge be liable? I don't put on the badge to protect myself. Other people out there need people like me, but if the courts make this a reality, then the general public better figure something out. Can't expect officers to make an arrest with this liability if there are factors not under his/her control that could result in liability.

chiefton @ 10/21/2017 3:18 PM

I agree with the long as everyone can sue the ACLU or failure to represent them because they are white. The ACLU would then be liable for not representing white supremacists, neo nazis and all the other low lifes walking the street who have their constitutional rights violated for their freedom of speech. How about suing attorneys for losing their civil suits or criminal cases. Suing judges when they endorse gun laws that are in strict violation of the constitution or if a supreme court decision overturns them. This could go on and on with no end in sight.

AZBIGDOG @ 10/22/2017 8:19 AM

What is really neat, just think of all the persons you have arrested, they have been found guilty and then get the case retried and the judge or prosecutor refuse to prosecute. Just think how much money they could get. It is time that prosecutors stopped not prosecuting because there is a less than 100% chance a jury or judge would prosecute. Maybe the Officers should start suing the prosecutors for refusing to prosecute assaults on officers, despite the injuries and evidence to support it.

gapp @ 10/22/2017 10:05 PM

Time to revert back to the old powers of Constable & common law. In this case the Constables power to issue warnings, the common law breach of Besetting Premises and the common law ability to "Detain" a person and remove them from the scene/premises/area. To Detain is NOT to ARREST, merely a process to assist the Constable to preserve peace and assist them in the removal of persons. Usually they are removed to a Police Station where they undertake an order not to return to the premises within a set period.

John @ 10/26/2017 5:08 PM

Everyone calm down. The ruling is much more narrow than “if you arrest and the person isnt found guilty you are liable”. The ruling is that in THIS PARTICULAR CASE there was no reasonable basis for arresting for this particular crime. Try reading the article instead of jumping to conclusions.

David F Halsted @ 10/28/2017 8:43 AM

So in the future, no complaints signed, no arrest.

Mike @ 11/3/2017 4:39 AM

No John, you're wrong. Maybe YOU should read the article, not that the article has anything to do with reality anyhow. The article stated "charges were later dropped, because it wasn’t clear beyond a reasonable doubt". That is the legal requirement for a jury to convict the accused. Probable Cause is the legal standard for Peace Officers to lawfully make an arrest (yes, there are lots of exceptions and caveats). In California, Penal Code 836(a) clearly defines this authority. I'm sure nearly all states have similar statutes, but if not, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed this for nearly 70 years. Specifically, the Supreme Court decision in Saucier v. Katz established the concept of "qualified immunity" in just such a case....sorry to bring actual knowledge, fact, and established case law to a comments section. I'm now going to go teach Mandarin to a rock, which will be less waste of my time.

BT @ 11/4/2017 1:33 PM

Mike I like it.......let me know how those language lessons go...This is exactly what BLM wants....they must feel as if Christmas has come affirmative result from SCOTUS would be the downfall of the Nation and the rule of law. however as Mike said 70yrs of SCOTUS opinion should nullify this insanity. A reasonable and Honest Senate would remove these Judicial activists from the bench...Alas the latter is a non-sequitur.

TB @ 11/5/2017 4:41 AM

Let's not rush to judgement and make hasty decisions as to enforce or not to enforce until we hear the ruling from the SCOTUS. 70 years of rulings should not be ignored by a conservative leaning court and as of yet, they still are leaning toward conservatism. If that changes, then the erosion of the U.S.A. as we know it will quickly speed downhill faster than it did during the ERA of the Obama administration with his "lackey" Eric Holder at the Helm of Justice....In God We Trust....

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