On Monday, Axios reported that the U.S. Supreme Court handed criminal justice reform advocates a rare and historic win, making it easier for defendants to sue police officers over civil rights violations.
"The Supreme Court ruled Monday that former criminal defendants who sue law enforcement for a wrongful arrest don't need to prove that they were innocent of the offenses they were charged with, only that their underlying cases ended without a conviction," reported Shawna Chen. "The 6-3 decision is a 'major win for plaintiffs in police accountability cases,' Law360 notes. It will make it easier to pursue lawsuits under the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable seizures."
"The Supreme Court sided with Larry Thompson, a Navy veteran who sued the New York Police Department for violating his civil rights," said the report. "The sister of Thompson's now-wife 'apparently suffered from a mental illness' and called 911 accusing him of abusing their newborn, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the majority opinion. When police arrived, Thompson refused to let them enter without a warrant. He scuffled with the officers before they arrested him and took the baby. Medical examiners later found no signs of abuse on the baby. Thompson was nevertheless charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, and spent two days in jail. The charges were dismissed before trial without explanation."
The decision strikes down the holding of the Second Circuit, which ruled Thompson could not sue because he had never been found innocent of the offense for which he was arrested. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch would have upheld this ruling.
This finding is an unusual victory, as the "Roberts Court" has broadly been hostile to criminal justice reform. They have consistently upheld and expanded "qualified immunity" protections for police officers, which limit the circumstances in which suspects can sue for behavior of officers on the job, and have ordered executions to move forward against a prisoner with intellectual disabilities and another who had requested to wait until he had his imam present with him.
However, in some particularly egregious cases the court has intervened for defendants, including for a Black Mississippi man who had been tried six times for murder, each time with racial manipulation of the jury pool.