CA5: Ptf’s civil Franks claim survives QI; def officer omitted material exculpatory evidence that led to ptf’s 15 min aquittal of murder

Plaintiff spent 16 months in jail awaiting trial for murder. He was acquitted in 15 minutes. He sued all the officers. After a prior appeal (Winfrey v. San Jacinto Cty., 481 Fed. Appx. 969 (5th Cir. 2012)), all that remains is the officer who sought the search warrant and arrest warrant. Regretfully, the initial complaint didn’t specifically address whether there was a Fourth Amendment claim for malicious prosecution, but it finally does. The officer gets no qualified immunity because the right to an arrest warrant without a Franks violation and material omissions that completely undermined the probable cause is well established. Winfrey v. Rogers, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2829 (5th Cir. Feb. 5, 2018):

We VACATE the district court’s judgment and REMAND for trial essentially on the factual issue of whether Johnson acted recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally by omitting and misrepresenting material facts in his affidavit when seeking an arrest warrant for Junior. Because this litigation has continued for over seven years, including two appeals before this Court, we emphasize that this case must go to trial without further delay.

. . .

Furthermore, we agree that a Fourth Amendment claim is cognizable under the facts here. This Court has held that although there is no “freestanding constitutional right to be free from malicious prosecution,” “[t]he initiation of criminal charges without probable cause may set in force events that run afoul of explicit constitutional protection-the Fourth Amendment if the accused is seized and arrested, for example.” Castellano v. Fragozo, 352 F.3d 939, 945, 953 (5th Cir. 2003) (en banc). In Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266 (1998), a plurality of the Supreme Court said that malicious-prosecution claims must be based on the Fourth Amendment, rather than on “the more generalized notion of ‘substantive due process,’” because the Fourth Amendment is the explicit textual source against this type of government behavior. Id. at 273 (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989)). And recently, in Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S. Ct. 911 (2017), the Supreme Court considered whether a plaintiff had stated a Fourth Amendment claim when he was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance based upon false reports written by a police officer and an evidence technician. Id. at 915. There, the Court said the plaintiff’s “claim fits the Fourth Amendment, and the Fourth Amendment fits [the plaintiff's] claim, as hand in glove.” Id. at 917. And it held “that the Fourth Amendment governs a claim for unlawful pretrial detention even beyond the start of legal process.” Id. at 920.

. . .

Here, we find that Junior’s claim is more like the tort of malicious prosecution, because Junior was arrested through the wrongful institution of legal process: an arrest pursuant to a warrant, issued through the normal legal process, that is alleged to contain numerous material omissions and misstatements. Junior thus alleges a wrongful institution of legal process-an unlawful arrest pursuant to a warrant-instead of a detention with no legal process. Because Junior’s claim suggests malicious prosecution rather than false imprisonment, his claim accrued when his criminal proceedings ended in his favor on June 12, 2009. He filed his suit well within the two-year limitations period on May 26, 2010. So Junior’s claim survives the time bar.

. . .

Clearly established law is not determined “at a high level of generality.” Ashcroft, 563 U.S. at 742. Instead “[t]he dispositive question is ‘whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly established.’” Mullenix, 136 S.Ct. at 308 (quoting Ashcroft, 563 U.S. at 742). The inquiry must look at the specific context of the case. Id.

Here, the clearly established constitutional right asserted by Junior is to be free from police arrest without a good faith showing of probable cause. Since Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978), it has been clearly established that a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights are violated if (1) the affiant, in support of the warrant, includes “a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth” and (2) “the allegedly false statement is necessary to the [*18] finding of probable cause.” Id. at 155-56. In Franks, the Supreme Court observed that the warrant requirement is meant “to allow the magistrate to make an independent evaluation of the matter.” Id. at 165. It requires affiants to “set forth particular facts and circumstances underlying the existence of probable cause,” including those that concern the reliability of the information and the credibility of the source to avoid “deliberately or reckless false statement[s].” Id.

Still, “negligence alone will not defeat qualified immunity.” Brewer, 860 F.3d at 825. “[A] proven misstatement can vitiate an affidavit only if it is established that the misstatement was the product ‘of deliberate falsehood or of reckless disregard for the truth.’” United States v. Martin, 615 F.2d 318, 329 (5th Cir. 1980) (quoting Franks, 438 U.S. at 171). Recklessness requires proof that the defendant “‘in fact entertained serious doubts as to the truth’ of the statement.” Hart v. O’Brien, 127 F.3d 424, 449 (5th Cir. 1997) (quoting St.Amant v. Thompson, 390 U.S. 727, 731 (1968)), abrogation on other grounds recognized by Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 775 (5th Cir. 1999).

This entry was posted in Franks doctrine, Qualified immunity. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.