Supreme Court Eases Suing Over Wrongful Arrests

Supreme Court Eases Suing Over Wrongful Arrests Supreme Court Eases Suing Over Wrongful Arrests The Supreme Court. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

By Jack Gournell | Monday, 04 April 2022 08:23 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday made it easier for people wrongfully arrested to sue the police officers who arrested them.

In a ruling issued Monday, the court said former criminal defendants are no longer required to prove they were innocent of the charges involved in the case — only that they were not convicted of them.

Law360 calls the ruling "a major win for plaintiffs in police accountability cases."

The 6-3 decision, authored by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, sided with Navy veteran Larry Thompson, who sued New York Police Department officers for civil rights violations after he was arrested when they showed up after his sister-in-law called police saying he was abusing her baby.

Police broke into Thompson's house after he refused to let them in and resisted arrest. A judge dropped the charges "in the interests of justice."

But the dropped charges put Thompson in the same position as many others of not being able to sue because they cannot prove they were innocent since their case was never adjudicated.

"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," the opinion says.

The requirement of innocence also creates a paradox, the court said, where a Fourth Amendment Claim of unreasonable search and seizure would be barred in cases where prosecutors dismissed the charges because of lack of strong evidence, but would allow one where the evidence was strong enough for a trial.

"That would make little sense," wrote Kavanaugh, who was joined in the opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.

"Before today's decision, police officers could quite literally frame an innocent person for a crime. And they might get a free pass at the end of the day," Amir Ali, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center who argued before the court in October on Thompson's behalf.

"To add insult to injury, the free pass was given precisely because those false charges were dismissed by the criminal court," Ali told Law360. "That rule governed at the time we started representing Mr. Thompson in this case. Not so anymore, thankfully."