U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Considers Cops' Immunity in Suit over Broad Search Warrant

The U.S. Supreme Court considered Monday whether police are entitled to immunity in a lawsuit that contends a now-deceased woman’s rights were violated by a broad search warrant.

Los Angeles police were looking for a shotgun allegedly used in a domestic assault by the foster son of the woman, 73-year-old Augusta Millender, report the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The search warrant authorized police to look for any handguns, shotguns and rifles. It also authorized a search for “evidence showing street gang membership.” The only firearm found was a legal gun that Millender used for self defense.

A 1986 Supreme Court decision bars immunity for officers in warrant cases when “the warrant application is so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence unreasonable.” Interpreting that standard, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had sided with Millender.

During oral arguments, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted that the warrant had been approved by police superiors and a judge. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said approval should not protect the officers. She deemed the idea a “Nuremberg defense.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association both support Millender in the case.

The case is Messerschmidt v. Millender.

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