Monday, November 4, 2013

Stanton v. Sims, docket 12-1217

Warrant: Fourth Amendment: enter a home without a warrant in case of hot pursuit following a possible misdemeanor: qualified immunity (“qualified immunity because no clearly established law put him on notice that his conduct was unconstitutional”):
(…) Nicholas Patrick crossed the street about 25 yards in front of Stanton’s car and ran or quickly walked toward a residence. Nothing in the record shows that Stanton (the police officer) knew at the time whether that residence belonged to Patrick or some­one else; in fact, it belonged to Drendolyn Sims.
Stanton did not see Patrick with a baseball bat, but he considered Patrick’s behavior suspicious and decided to detain him in order to investigate. Stanton exited his patrol car, called out “police,” and ordered Patrick to stop in a voice loud enough for all in the area to hear. But Patrick did not stop. Instead, he “looked directly at Stanton, ignored his lawful orders, and quickly went through the front gate” of a fence enclosing Sims’ front yard. When the gate closed behind Patrick, the fence—which was more than six feet tall and made of wood—blocked Stanton’s view of the yard. Stanton believed that Patrick had committed a jailable misdemeanor under California Penal Code §148 by disobeying his order to stop; Stanton also “feared for his safety.” He accordingly made the “split-second decision” to kick open the gate in pursuit of Patrick. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to Stanton, Sims herself was standing behind the gate when it flew open. The swinging gate struck Sims, cutting her forehead and injuring her shoulder. Sims filed suit against Stanton in Federal District Court under Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983, alleging that Stanton unreasonably searched her home without a war­rant in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (…)  hot pursuit of a fleeing felon justifies an officer’s warrantless entry. (United States v. Santana, 427 U. S. 38, 42–43 (1976)); hot pur­suit exception: immediate or contin­uous pursuit of X. from the scene of a crime 466 U. S., at 753; “the doctrine of qualified immunity protects govern­ment officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U. S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S. 800, 818 (1982)). “Qualified immunity gives government offi­cials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments,” and “protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 12) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U. S. 335, 341 (1986)). “We do not require a case directly on point” before concluding that the law is clearly established, “but existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question be­yond debate.” al-Kidd, 563 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9). Federal and state courts nationwide are sharply di­vided on the question whether an officer with probable cause to arrest a suspect for a misdemeanor may enter a home without a warrant while in hot pursuit of that sus­pect; in California, the law is: in both People v. Lloyd, 216 Cal. App. 3d 1425, 1430, 265 Cal. Rptr. 422, 425 (1989), and In re Lavoyne M., 221 Cal. App. 3d 154, 159, 270 Cal. Rptr. 394, 396 (1990), the California Court of Appeal refused to limit the hot pursuit exception to felony suspects. The court stated in Lloyd: “where the pursuit into the home was based on an arrest set in motion in a public place, the fact that the offenses justifying the initial detention or arrest were misdemeanors is of no significance in determining the validity of the entry without a warrant.” 216 Cal. App. 3d, at 1430, 265 Cal. Rptr., at 425; we do not express any view on whether Officer Stan­ton’s entry into Sims’ yard in pursuit of Patrick was con­stitutional. But whether or not the constitutional rule applied by the court below was correct, it was not “beyond debate.” al-Kidd, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 9). Stanton may have been mistaken in believing his actions were justified, but he was not “plainly incompetent.” Malley, 475 U. S., at 341 (U.S.S.Ct., 04.11.2013, Stanton v. Sims, Per Curiam, docket 12-1217).

Warrant : Quatrième Amendement : cas d’un policier qui entre dans le périmètre d’un domicile sans warrant suite à une poursuite ininterrompue depuis la scène d’une infraction présumée (hot pursuit) (l’infraction étant un misdemeanor et non un felony) ; immunité qualifiée dont peut se prévaloir le policier (comme tout autre employé du secteur public) parce qu’aucune règle de droit clairement établie n’était susceptible de lui faire comprendre que son comportement était contraire à la Constitution fédérale :
Il est établi qu’une entrée sans warrant est admise en cas de hot pursuit portant sur un comportement pouvant être qualifié de felony. Mais qu’en est-il si l’infraction présumée ne peut être que qualifiée de misdemeanor ? Les cours d’appels fédérales et les cours des états sont divisées à ce sujet, d’où la présente décision de la Cour Suprême fédérale. En droit californien, il est établi qu’en cas de hot pursuit, l’officier de police n’a nul besoin d’un warrant pour entrer dans le périmètre d’un domicile, cela même si l’infraction n’est qu’un misdemeanor. Il faut toutefois l’existence d’une cause probable, comme dans tous les autres cas. Dans la présente affaire, la Cour ne se prononce pas sur la constitutionalité de la conduite de l’officier de police Stanton. Elle se limite à juger que l’on ne peut pas lui reprocher d’avoir méconnu une règle de droit clairement établie, justifiant de ne pas appliquer l’immunité dont il est question plus haut. En effet, il ne pouvait pas être clair pour le policier si l’infraction en jeu, qui relevait donc d’un misdemeanor et non pas d’un felony, lui permettait ou non d’entrer sans warrant. Pour le reste, le cas est renvoyé à l’autorité précédente pour nouvelle décision dans le sens des considérants. Il reste à voir si ultérieurement la Cour Suprême reprendra la conception californienne précitée.

No comments:

Post a Comment