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Qualified Immunity and when to Pursue a U.S.C. 42 § 1983 claim, even when an arrest warrant has issued.

Posted by James Peters | Sep 21, 2020 | 0 Comments

“The test of qualified immunity is whether the officer, in performing discretionary functions, has engaged in conduct that violates “clearly established constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1982). The reasonableness of an officer's conduct is governed by an objective standard. Harlow, 457 U.S. at 818. Under the foregoing test, determining whether qualified immunity applies presents a two-pronged inquiry: “whether the facts…make out a violation of a constitutional right” and “whether the right at issue was ‘clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct.” Safar, 859 F.3d at 245 (quoting Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 233, 231, 129 S. Ct. 808, 172 L. Ed. 2d 565 (2009)). 

When a Criminal Defendant is arrested and prosecuted without probable cause a clearly established constitutional right has been violated and those rights date back to the founding of the United States of America. If the Defendant is arrested pursuant to an arrest warrant in certain circumstances the Defendant can still sue in Federal Court, for violations of his rights as long as the below test is met. 

Allegations that an arrest made pursuant to a warrant was not supported by probable cause, or claims seeking damages for the period after legal process issued"—e.g., post-indictment or arraignment—are considered a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. Humbert v. Mayor & City Council of Balt. City, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 16104-13, (quoting Brooks v. City of Winston-Salem, 85 F.3d 178, 182 (4th Cir. 1996).

“Such a claim "is properly understood as a Fourth Amendment claim for unreasonable seizure which incorporates certain elements of the common law tort [malicious prosecution]." Evans v. Chalmers, 703 F.3d 636, 647 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Lambert v. Williams, 223 F.3d 257, 261 (4th Cir. 2000)). To succeed, a plaintiff must show that "the defendant (1) caused (2) a seizure of the plaintiff pursuant to legal process unsupported by probable cause, and (3) criminal proceedings terminated in [the] plaintiff's favor." Id. Humbert at 13. 

In Humbert, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict against police officers employed with Baltimore City, for violations of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the verdict was upheld even though the Baltimore City Police arrested Humbert pursuant to an arrest warrant based on an eyewitness identification. Humbert alleged that his arrest was unsupported by probable cause because it resulted from a materially false warrant application. 

“A party challenging the veracity of a warrant application must show that the officer(s) deliberately or with a "reckless disregard for the truth" made materially false statements in the warrant application, Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 171, 98 S. Ct. 2674, 57 L. Ed. 2d 667 (1978) ,or omitted from that application "material facts with the intent to make, or with reckless disregard of whether they thereby made, the [application] misleading," Humbert at 13, (quoting United States v. Colkley, 899 F.2d 297, 300 (4th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted).

Reckless disregard can be evidenced by an officer acting "with a high degree of awareness of [a statement's] probable falsity. Id at 15. Not only must the officer act with reckless disregard the for the truth but the Plaintiff must show that the false statement or omission was material. “To determine materiality, the Court must "excise the offending inaccuracies and insert the facts recklessly omitted, and then determine whether or not the corrected warrant affidavit would establish probable cause." Id.

About the Author

James Peters

James A. Peters has a general legal practice handling both civil and criminal cases in the Silver Spring, MD and Washington DC area. Mr. Peters focuses the majority of his practice on defending residents of the State of Maryland charged with criminal offenses. Mr. Peters takes an aggressive appro...

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