Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Should those who have had evidence suppressed under the Exclusionary Rule still be entitled to civil damages?

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This is an issue I have wanted to blog about for some time, but I have been waiting for the right case to come along. Today it did.

Case: SMITH v. CITY OF OAK HILL, Case No. 6:11-cv-1332-Orl-31KRS (M.D. Florida, January 11, 2013)

What happened: Plaintiff was driving around with a gym bag that had marijuana, cocaine and a gun in it. Police pulled the vehicle over for, what appears to be, no good reason. After the apparently suspicionless stop, the policeman claimed that he smelled the marijuana,* searched the car and found the gym bag. Plaintiff was charged with several crimes for the contraband in the gym bag. The criminal case judge suppressed based on te fact that there was no real reason for police to stop the vehicle in the first place. This is a classic use of the Exclusionary Rule. The fact that the charges were dropped will, at least in theory, protect future innocent parties from unwarranted traffic stops by the police. However, plaintiff has now sued the police under Section 1983 for civil damages based on the bad traffic stop of the (clearly guilty of crimes) plaintiff.

Decision: No qi for the police.

Comment: This case raises the question of whether a “guilty” plaintiff should still have civil damages claim against the police for a bad search. At least a part of me wishes that this case could be stopped on the basis that the plaintiff was, in de facto sense, guilty of serious crimes.


* The court expressed some doubt that a strong odor of marijuna really was smelt by the policeman.

Written by Burgers Allday

January 12, 2013 at 9:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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