The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that victims of false or fabricated evidence on the part of police can hold the government accountable for those actions through civil suits against officers.
The high court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that Larry Thompson of Brooklyn, N.Y., a U.S. Navy veteran and Postal Service worker, can sue the New York Police Department for damages after he was falsely arrested and jailed eight years ago in connection with a report of child abuse.
The ruling overturns existing practices in New York and elsewhere in the country holding that even if an innocent person succeeds in dismissing false charges against them, police officers who fabricate or falsify evidence in those cases are immune from civil lawsuits — no matter the consequences to the innocent person’s life — if prosecutors state why the charges were dropped.
“The question of whether a criminal defendant was wrongly charged does not logically depend on whether the prosecutor or court explained why the prosecution was dismissed,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court’s majority.
The court found that Thompson’s Fourth Amendment civil rights were violated in the case, in which NYPD officers arrested him for supposedly abusing his newborn daughter.
In the case, emergency medical technicians arrived at Thompson’s apartment investigating a false report of child abuse, the court found. Following an initial visit in which they were able to see his daughter safe in her mother’s arms, the EMTs later returned with four officers.
Thompson refused to allow them to enter and asked to see a warrant, but the officers forcibly entered the home, tackling and handcuffing him even though he had offered no resistance. The EMTs then entered the apartment and confirmed there had been no abuse to the child.
An investigation found that an officer falsely reported Thompson was the aggressor in the incident and had violently resisted police. Several months later, the New York District Attorney dismissed the charges against Thompson “in the interest of justice.”
A federal court in New York initially ruled that Thompson could not sue the officers. That decision was later affirmed by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
In a dissent, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch contended Thompson’s claims are not valid, calling his case “a hybrid claim” mixing arguments relating to both the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against illegal search and seizure and safeguards against malicious prosecution.
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