‘…an invitation to go inside your home is not the same thing as an invitation to destroy it…’
(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) When an Idaho woman handed police officers the key to her home and told them that they could search inside, she did not expect them to shoot tear gas grenades into the home and obliterate her possessions.
Caldwell, Idaho police officers Matthew Richardson, Alan Seevers, and Doug Winfield were looking for the homeowner’s former boyfriend, a violent criminal wanted on firearms charges, Bloomberg Law reported.
After a 10-hour siege on the home, no one was inside, except the homeowner’s dog.
More than five years after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, adopting a legal doctrine called “qualified immunity,” that the police were within their rights, plaintiff Shaniz West has joined with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to petition the Supreme Court to review her case.
“Shaniz West is just one of countless Americans whose rights have been violated but who has been turned away at the courthouse door by baseless rules about government immunity,” said IJ President and General Counsel Scott Bullock in a press release. “The Constitution is a promise that is meant to be kept, and people who swear an oath to that Constitution should be required to keep it. We at IJ plan to see that they do.”
Qualified immunity prevents citizens from suing government employees when acting within their official duties, except when they violate a specific law or constitutional right.
In West’s case, the Ninth Circuit sided with the police officers, who said Fourth Amendment protections did not apply, since West gave officers permission to search her home.
Qualified immunity prevented the Ninth Circuit from determining whether the officers’ actions were justified. Instead, the court ruled that “no Supreme Court or Ninth Circuit case clearly established, as of August 2014, that Defendants exceeded the scope of consent.”
“No judge has ever ruled that what these officials did to Shaniz was legal,” explained IJ Senior Attorney Robert McNamara. “After all, anybody who has ever thrown a dinner party understands that an invitation to go inside your home is not the same thing as an invitation to destroy it.”
“But under qualified immunity, courts say it doesn’t matter whether a reasonable person would have thought they were acting legally,” he continued. “It only matters whether a court has already decided that an official who did exactly the same thing in exactly the same circumstances violated the law. If your exact case hasn’t come up before, you’re out of luck.”
West and IJ’s case ask the Supreme Court to evaluate whether qualified immunity should be the test to determine whether a government official has violated a citizen’s Constitutional rights.
“Qualified immunity means that government officials can get away with violating your rights as long as they violate them in a way nobody thought of before,” said IJ Attorney Joshua Windham. “Government officials are not above the law, and if citizens must follow the law, the government must follow the Constitution—that includes being held accountable for violating it.”