Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

11C Court seriously undercuts Alabamans right to resist unlawful police entry

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Alabama allows its citiens to resist when policemen unlawfully enter their property. That is exactly what happened in the following case:

Morris v. TOWN OF LEXINGTON ALABAMA, Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit 2014

Long story short, police officers came into plaintiff’s house when they knew, or should have known, that they had no business being there. After they refused to leave, plaintiff punched one of the officers to get him out. Then police arrested plaintiff for assault on policeman and took palintiff to jail. Plaintiff was eventually acquitted, by a jury, on the assault charge. Plaintiff then sued the police for, among other things, false arrest.

The Eleventh Circuit (11C) opinion, authored by Judge Tjoflat, held that police had no right to barge into plaintiff’s home, but also said that punching the policeman (in response to being pushed by the policeman in plaintiff’s own home) gave police “probable cause, or at least arguable probable cause, to arrest plaintiff for assault. The opinion noted that there was a valid defense to the assault charge (specifically, the fact that Alabama allows its citizens to resist unlawful police actions), but that because this is a “defense,” it does not negate probable cause.

I have seen decisions like this before. They seem flat-out wrong to me. Look at it this way: imagine that police know that a suspect has committed the prima facie elements of a crime (any crime), but also know with certainty that suspect has a rock solid affirmative defense under applicable law. Can police go get an arrest warrant from a magistrate on this basis? I would think / hope not. There may be cases where police don’t know for sure about the affirmative defense (consider the George Zimmerman slaying of Trayon Martin), but, it seems to me at least that when the policeman knows about the affirmative defense then this must defeat probable cause and strip the policeman of his prerogative to arrest.

I know that this is not the first civil suit to hold that affirmative defenses don’t matter in the probable cause calculus. At the very least, this interpretation, under which affirmative defenses known to the police do not defeat probable cause, makes it unwise for Alabamans to exercise their state-given right to resist unlawful police entries. Judge Tjoflat’s opinion says that that is okay because the plaintiff might have a valid civil case against the police for unlawful entry. Is that really enough to compensate for the kind of mental, or emotional, damage occasioned by a police entry? Can the damages caused by an unlawful police entry be fairly measured in money? Is this an issue for a federal judge (as opposed to a state legislature) to decide?

Written by Burgers Allday

June 14, 2014 at 5:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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