We recently wrote about a Section 1983 claim when a person was arrested based upon a false affidavit signed by a law enforcement officer. Today, we discuss another situation in which a faulty affidavit can give rise to a constitutional rights violation.
On September 18, 2018, United States District Judge Carlton W. Reeves issued an opinion in Mayfield v. Butler Snow LLP, et al.
The lawsuit arose out of the arrest of attorney Mark Mayfield. He was arrested in connection with the actions of others in photographing Mrs. Thad Cochran in her bed in a nursing home.
The basis for Mayfield’s arrest warrant was Officer Vickie Currie’s affidavit stating that Mayfield had communicated with the other conspirators to photograph Mrs. Cochran.
Mayfield’s estate filed suit.
After Mayfield’s death, his estate filed suit against multiple parties, alleging multiple claims, including Section 1983 claims against government officials and employees.
The claim addressed in this post was the contention that Officer Currie’s affidavit (which resulted in an arrest warrant being issued) was insufficient to support a finding of probable cause by the judge.
Two instances in which an officer can be liable for a faulty affidavit.
Judge Reeves began his analysis by noting “[p]olice officers who apply for warrants are typically entitled to qualified immunity for their on-the-job mistakes. In layman’s terms, that means police officers are given ‘ample room for mistaken judgments.’ ”
Yet, Judge Reeves explained there are two situations in which qualified immunity can be lost and an officer can be held liable even when a warrant was obtained.
One of those is where the officer “makes a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, that results in a warrant being issued without probable cause.” That exception is based on Franks v. Delaware which we previously discussed here.
The other exception arises from the ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Malley v. Briggs.
Judge Reeves explained that a Malley violation occurs when the attesting officer’s “warrant application is so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence unreasonable.”
“The Malley wrong is not the presentment of false evidence, but the obvious failure of accurately presented evidence to support the probable cause required for the issuance of a warrant.”
Officer Currie’s affidavit.
The affidavit submitted by Officer Currie to obtain an arrest warrant for Mayfield alleged that “by communicating, planning, and assisting Clayton Kelly with information and resources which aided and assisted Kelly in photographing and filming Rose Cochran inside of her residence, . . . without her knowledge or permission,” Mayfield had helped his co-conspirators violate Mississippi Code § 97-29-63.
That statute reads:
Any person who with lewd, licentious or indecent intent secretly photographs, films, videotapes, records or otherwise reproduces the image of another person without the permission of such person when such a person is located in a place where a person would intend to be in a state of undress and have a reasonable expectation of privacy, including, but not limited to, private dwellings or any facility, public or private, used as a restroom, bathroom, shower room, tanning booth, locker room, fitting room, dressing room or bedroom shall be guilty of a felony . . . .
Judge Reeves concluded that “the most glaring problem is that Officer Currie’s affidavit is conclusory. It contains no facts tending to show that Mayfield committed a crime.”
Therefore, “Officer Currie’s affidavit may run afoul of Malley and its progeny because it provides no factual basis on which a judge could evaluate her application.”
Judge Reeves called for additional briefing on the question of whether Officer Currie was entitled to qualified immunity in light of her faulty affidavit.
On April 30, 2019, Judge Reeves denied Officer Currie’s motion to dismiss based on qualified immunity. He held that “[i]t was not objectively reasonable for her to present to the judge such a bare-bones warrant application lacking any underlying facts and circumstances showing Mayfield’s unlawful conduct.”
Panter Law Firm, PLLC, 7736 Old Canton Road, Suite B, Madison, MS 39110