Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Supreme Court Overturns 9th Circuit Anti-Officer Use of Force Rule

In County of Los Angeles v. Mendez et al., the United States Supreme Court overruled the Ninth Circuit to put an end to a rule that let people bring lawsuits against officers even when the officers' use of force was reasonable.  Under the so-called "Provocation Rule," officers whose use of force is deemed reasonable, could still be held liable if they did something else, in violation of the 4th Amendment, to make the suspect respond in a way that required force.  The Supreme Court unanimously rejected this theory.

In the Mendez case, two deputies were looking for a wanted parolee when they entered a shack in the backyard of a home without knocking or announcing.  They did not have a warrant to enter the shack. It turned out Mendez lived in the shack.  Mendez got up with a gun in his hand when the officers entered and the officers reasonably believed their lives were in danger and fired in self-defense.  Mendez, who survived, sued, arguing that even if it was reasonable for the officers to shoot him, they should still be liable since they did not have a warrant to search his shack.  The Ninth Circuit agreed, applying its "Provocation Rule."

The Supreme Court, however, held, "The rule’s fundamental flaw is that it uses another constitutional violation to manufacture an excessive force claim where one would not otherwise exist.”  The Court explained "the provocation rule... instructs courts to look back in time to see if a different Fourth Amendment violation was somehow tied to the eventual use of force, an approach that mistakenly conflates distinct Fourth Amendment claims." As a result, the Court concluded, "the provocation rule is incompatible with this Court's excessive force jurisprudence."