Police Officer Immunity for Violating Fourth Amendment: Can't I Sue?

by Steven D. Powell

Attorney at Law
February 25th, 2012

police lightOn February 21, 2012, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Messerschmidt v. Millender granted civil lawsuit immunity to police officers executing an invalid search warrant.

In this case, service of the defective search warrant violated the plaintiff’s constitutional Fourth Amendment right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The interesting thing about this case is not that the court correctly recognized the invalidity of the warrant. It’s not interesting because the court granted the police officers good faith qualified immunity for executing a bum warrant. The court correctly read the law and made an informed and intelligent judgment.

What makes this case so interesting is how it illustrates the dishonesty of the critics of the Exclusionary Rule. Over the years several Justices of the Supreme Court and many others said if evidence was obtained unconstitutionally, that evidence would be suppressed in the defendant’s trial. That is the Exclusionary Rule.

In drug case defense this Exclusionary Rule is especially relevant.

It applies, however, in all criminal or administrative law cases. It has been the rule of law for almost 100 years. All Ventura County criminal defense attorneys should know the history and contours of the Exclusionary Rule.

There is and has been serious opposition to the Exclusionary Rule for years. The most influential of these critics have sat on the United States Supreme Court.

The critics of the Rule argue just because the judges, police and prosecutors collectively violated a person’s rights the evidence obtained should still be admissible. And one of the main arguments these critics advance is: “Hey, if the cops and the prosecution and the judges blow it in violating your rights, you can always sue them for money damages. No need to suppress the evidence to discourage constitutionally suspect practices. Discourage them with civil lawsuits.”

The Messerschmidt decision gives the lie to that argument. You really cannot effectively sue judges, prosecutors and police for money damages for violating your constitutional rights if you are the criminal defendant caught up in law enforcement excesses. There are exceptions to this rule, however, under which you could sue them.  Consult a civil rights attorney to discuss these issues. 

Judges, prosecutors and police enjoy a very broad and almost impenetrable barrier to lawsuits. They have immunity.  The only thing standing between law enforcement excess and the citizens of these United State is the Exclusionary Rule.

The motion to suppress evidence in a criminal law case is the only means of curbing overly enthusiastic law enforcement practices violating one’s constitutional rights. The Rule’s critics who said “Just sue the police officer, forget the Rule” have now been exposed for not telling the truth in arguing against the Exclusionary Rule.

FCSP, a criminal law office,  has extensive and successful experience making motions to suppress evidence seized in contravention of constitutional rights.  You need our  Ventura County criminal defense attorneys  working your case.  Call FCSP, one of the best legal defense teams in Ventura County, to resolve your legal problems.  We have criminal defense experience and a proven success record.  Remember, in the defense of this and any criminal case --Experience Matters.   FCSPLaw.com.