At the Supreme Court’s “long conference,” where it decides which petitions—that have been piling up all summer—to accept, the Court agreed to hear two unrelated cases involving car searches.
Per the Fourth Amendment police officers generally need a warrant to search a car. However, the automobile exception allows officers to search a car that is “readily mobile” without a warrant if officers have probable cause to believe they will find contraband or a crime has been committed.
No matter the legal issue, excessive forces cases are difficult for state and local governments to win because they often involve injury or death (in this case of a totally innocent person). To win one unanimously likely says something about the problematic nature of the legal theory.
In County of Los Angeles v. Mendez the Supreme Court rejected the “provocation rule,” where police officers using reasonable force may be liable for violating the Fourth Amendment because they committed a separate Fourth Amendment violation that contributed to their need to use force. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule.
Police officers entered the shack Mendez was living in without a warrant and unannounced. Mendez thought the officers were the property owner and picked up the BB gun he used to shoot rats so he could stand up. When the officers saw the gun, they shot him resulting in his leg being amputated below the knee.
The Ninth Circuit concluded that the use of force in this case was reasonable. But it concluded the officers were liable per the provocation rule–the officers brought about the shooting by entering the shack without a warrant. (The Ninth Circuit granted the officers qualified immunity for failing to knock-and-announce themselves.) The Ninth Circuit also concluded that provocation rule aside, the officers were liable for causing the shooting because it was “reasonably foreseeable” that the officers would encounter an armed homeowner when they “barged into the shack unannounced.” Continue reading →