County of Los Angeles v. Mendez

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: May 30, 2017
  • Case #: 16–369
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except GORSUCH, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Fourth Amendment, there exists no “provocation rule” where a law enforcement officer may also be held liable for injuries caused by their reasonable force during an unreasonable “seizure” as a separate constitutional violation.

Respondent, along with a pregnant woman, was living in a shack in the backyard of a house where the police were planning a felony arrest. Petitioners, two law enforcement officers involved in the operation, were searching the backyard when they entered Respondent’s shack. Seeing him with a BB gun in hand and thinking that it “closely resembled a small caliber rifle,” one of the officers yelled, “gun!” They both opened fire a combined 15 times. Respondent sued on three different Fourth Amendment claims: 1) that the entry into Respondent’s shack was an unreasonable and warrantless search, 2) the search was unreasonable because the officers failed to identify themselves upon entering the shack, and 3) that the officers performed an unreasonable seizure because the force used was excessive. Following a bench trial, the district court determined that although the officers’ use of force was reasonable, the Ninth Circuit’s “provocation rule” allowed the reasonable force to be deemed unreasonable as a matter of law if: 1) the officer provoked the violent response either recklessly or intentionally, and 2) the provocation was a separate violation of the Fourth Amendment. Petitioners then appealed to the Ninth Circuit that affirmed the use of the “provocation rule.” Petitioners then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court that granted certiorari to decide the constitutionality of the “provocation rule.” The Court determined that the “provocation rule” could not stand because it incorrectly allowed an excessive force claim where an officer used reasonable force after a separate unreasonable seizure has occurred. VACATED and REMANDED. 

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