Messerschmidt v. Millender (2012) 565 U.S. 535

Tim Coates and Lillie Hsu obtained a 6-3 decision from the United States Supreme Court for two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies in Messerschmidt v. Millender (2012) 132 S.Ct. 1235.  After a gang member fired a sawed-off shotgun at his ex-girlfriend, the officers obtained a warrant to search for all firearms and gang-related items at a residence where they believed the gang member was staying.  The residents sued under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging the search violated the Fourth Amendment.  In a critical decision for law enforcement, the Supreme Court held that the deputies were entitled to qualified immunity and thus could not be held personally liable for civil damages.

The Court reasoned that given the circumstances of the crime, the officers could reasonably have concluded that there was a fair probability the suspect owned other illegal firearms besides the one used in the crime and that seizing them was necessary to prevent further assaults on the victim.  The Court also reasoned that the officers could reasonably believe gang-related materials would be relevant to prosecuting the suspect.  The Court clarified that review of the warrant by the officers’ superior, an attorney, and a magistrate was relevant to analyzing qualified immunity.

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