CA7: Drug court staffers’ making arrests outside courthouse may have violated state law but were reasonable under 4A

In claims against a drug court out of control involving multi-month detentions for really short term ordered incarcerations, there was also a Fourth Amendment claim: Two drug court staffers, one a bailiff with no authority outside the courthouse, undertook to arrest alleged rule violators and bring them in. This probably violated Indiana law, but it didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment because the arrests were constitutionally reasonable, and they were brought in for prompt hearings. Hoffman v. Knoebel, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 18125 (7th Cir. July 3, 2018):

Where, as here, the defendants have conceded that a seizure occurred, the only question is whether the “seizure was unreasonable.” Dunn v. City of Elgin, 347 F.3d 641, 648 (7th Cir. 2003). Campbell, Taylor, and Bennett argue that their arrests were unreasonable because Knoebel and Snelling acted without any state-law authority. Knoebel and Snelling respond that the lack of state-law authority does not make a seizure unreasonable, and in the alternative, they assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity.

Everyone agrees that Knoebel and Snelling lacked any semblance of state-law authority to arrest DTC participants. But, as Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164, 128 S. Ct. 1598, 170 L. Ed. 2d 559 (2008), makes clear, that flaw does not show that there was a federal constitutional violation. As the Court held in Moore, an arrest based on probable cause, even if prohibited by state law, does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 174-76. Knoebel and Snelling acted pursuant to facially valid state warrants, and so probable cause to support the arrests either existed, or they reasonably believed that it did. See United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 924, 104 S. Ct. 3405, 82 L. Ed. 2d 677 (1984) (analogizing good-faith immunity under section 1983 to the good-faith exclusion under the exclusionary rule).

That is not to say that all was well from a broader point of view. The extent to which Knoebel and Snelling exceeded their jurisdiction is quite troubling. Snelling was a bailiff whose arrest powers did not extend past the courthouse doors, and Judge Jacobi testified that he told Snelling not to arrest people. Knoebel had no conceivable basis for arrest authority, though in fairness she did not personally handcuff any participants. Both defendants misleadingly brought with them indicia of authority—badges, guns, and in one case a call of “police”—when they had no actual authority. But these are all matters of state law: no one argues that any other aspects of the arrest would offend the Fourth Amendment. The warrants were valid, no excessive force was used, and each plaintiff was promptly taken to the DTC. This does not add up to a Fourth Amendment violation.

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