Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

May v. CITY OF NAHUNTA, Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit 2017

with 2 comments

Link to new 11C opinion

Link to police4aqi blog entry on last year’s 11C opinion

As regular readers may recall, a police officer forced an exhausted and frustrated woman providing elder care to a relative to go for a mental health check on pretty flimsy grounds. Last year, the Eleventh Circuit held that it was okay to force the woman to go for a mental health check, but that the method by which the woman was forced to change clothes was unreasonable for 4A purposes.

This new opinion, pursuant to a rehearing by the Eleventh Circuit, doesn’t change anything significant that I, Burgers, can detect (they took the 2016 opinion off of Google Scholar — don’t like that).

In the new opinion, the Eleventh Circuit worries about the “chilling effect” on police if they can’t take any person for a forcible mental health examination on even (what I consider to be) flimsy grounds.  I have three responses:

  1.  I would prefer to chill police conduct when it comes to ordering mental health examinations for punitive reasons — which appears to be what happened here.  I understand that courts don’t like to go into intent issues when it comes to police conduct, but, when police are allegedly acting for medical reasons (as opposed to law enforcement reasons), then I think that courts should go into subjective good faith as to whether the officer was truly motivated by medical concerns.
  2. In this case there was an EMT on scene.  The police should have been required to ask the EMT and deferred to his wishes in that situation.  EMT knows medicine better than the cops, after all.  Assuming the police officers present didn’t ask the EMT whether plaintiff should be medically detained, then I think that is evidence that they didn’t care about plaintiff’s medical needs (or lack thereof).
  3. Both this year’s and last year’s opinions ignore the great harms that can arise of a forcible medical health detention even if the detainee is quickly declared, by the medical professionals, to be fine to be out and about in the world (as plaintiff was in this case).  People can lose jobs, etc.  The opinion in this case basically makes it impossible to “comply with the police and recover later in court” when a police officer decides to do a punitive medical detention in absence of any authority to punish under the criminal law.

Written by Burgers Allday

January 29, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. i guess the court thought she was a danger to herself because she had been vigorously punching herself in the head. although that doesn’t seem to be the kind of harm that state emergency seizure statutes envision when they refer to danger to oneself or others.

    but at least she’ll be able to go to a trial now and show the jury how the male police officer gratuitously locked the door and creepily made her change her clothes.

    Bill O'Brien

    January 30, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    • Well, I disagree a bit in that neither of the Eleventh Circuit opinions actually that she was punching herself in the head. They do say that she was allegedly hitting herself in the head, and both opinions word things in a way to make it sound like she was punching herself in in the head, even though that was not what was alleged. This may seem like an overly fine distinction, or quibble, but I think it is an important distinction when “arguable probable cause” is as weak as it was in this case.

      Burgers Allday

      January 30, 2017 at 2:04 pm

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