CA4: No QI for arrest w/o PC and pft held for 80 days; lack of PC was obvious

Plaintiff was held for 80 days on an arrest utterly without probable cause, and the officer has no qualified immunity. Smith v. Munday, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 1975 (4th Cir. Feb. 3, 2017):

When applying for an arrest warrant, Munday simply did not have enough information for any reasonable or prudent person to believe there was probable cause. He lacked any information connecting Smith’s conduct to the contours of the offense, and certainly lacked enough evidence to create any inference more than mere suspicion.

Of the offense, Munday knew only that Lynch, a confidential informant used by members of the police department before but new to him, said “April Smith,” a skinny, black woman, sold him crack cocaine. He did not know if she had been convicted for selling crack cocaine before or if she lived in the county.

But to find the offender, Munday merely ran a broad search in the department’s database of individuals with criminal histories, looking for a woman of the same name. And when he found multiple individuals, at least two of whom were black women named April Smith weighing between 130 and 140 pounds, he chose one for no immediately apparent reason.

. . .

A warrant is so deficient in indicia of probable cause when it has an “error that is apparent from a ‘simple glance’ at the face of the warrant itself, not a defect that would ‘become apparent only upon a close parsing of the warrant application.'” Armstrong v. Asselin, 734 F.3d 984, 992 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Messerschmidt, 132 S. Ct. at 1250). And here, even a glance shows that Munday was unreasonable if he believed he had probable cause. Smith did have a criminal history for possessing and selling cocaine. But as discussed above, Munday had no evidence about her conduct whatsoever, let alone any evidence connecting her to the crime in question. It would be unreasonable for any officer to view Munday’s dearth of evidence as sufficient to establish probable cause. As a result, qualified immunity does not apply.

When the Supreme Court established this reasonableness standard, it articulated why the law should hold officers accountable for unreasonable warrant applications:

True, an officer who knows that objectively unreasonable decisions will be actionable may be motivated to reflect, before submitting a request for a warrant, upon whether he has a reasonable basis for believing that his affidavit establishes probable cause. But such reflection is desirable, because it reduces the likelihood that the officer’s request for a warrant will be premature. Premature requests for warrants are at best a waste of judicial resources; at worst, they lead to premature arrests, which may injure the innocent or, by giving the basis for a suppression motion, benefit the guilty.

Malley, 475 U.S. at 343-44. Those very same reasons are equally applicable here. The warrant issued in this case was wholly unreasonable. And the premature, or simply insufficient, request for a warrant in this case resulted in Smith’s eighty-day incarceration under threat of prosecution and alleged loss of her job. Had Munday more carefully reflected on his warrant application, perhaps these injuries could have been avoided.

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