Armstrong v. Asselin

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 11-01-2013
  • Case #: 10-53777
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Kleinfled for the Court; Circuit Judges Thomas and Callahan
  • Full Text Opinion

Qualified immunity, shielding police officers from liability, may be invoked when a police officer acts in good faith using a warrant subjected to approval by prosecutors and neutral judicial officials.

Jared Armstrong filed a complaint against several police officers alleging that they violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they acquired warrants that led to his arrest. Armstrong was arrested for disseminating “indecent material” to minors. Officers initially acquired a Glass warrant to record a conversation between Armstrong and the father of one of his alleged victims. The warrant was based on Armstrong’s alleged distribution of the book Satan Burger to a minor. With the information from the recording they acquired three subsequent search warrants. The Alaska Supreme court granted a motion to suppress all evidence, concluding that the Glass warrant that was acquired to record the conversation between Armstrong and the father was not supported by probable cause. Armstrong then sued six police offers and the police department for violating his constitutional rights. The district court denied the officers motion for qualified immunity because a trier of fact could reasonably conclude that a reasonable police officer would not have had reasonable cause to believe the book Satan Burger was obscene material. The Ninth Circuit found that whether the Glass warrant was unconstitutional under Alaskan law was irrelevant because Armstrong was invoking a constitutional right. Therefore the panel only looked at the three subsequent search warrants. More importantly, the panel held that the officers were acting reasonably when they made an arrest based on invalid warrants. Because the officers subjected every step of their invasion of Armstrong’s privacy to prosecutors and neutral judicial officials it is overwhelmingly likely that they acted reasonably. None of the rare exceptions to qualified immunity applied in this case. Therefore, the officers were entitled to the shield of immunity from this suit. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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