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Monday, April 15, 2019

 

The Courts Have Shown Too Much Deference to Unaccountable Government Officials

The case in question, Jessop v. City of Fresno, concerns the alleged theft of $276,000 by City of Fresno police officers while carrying out a raid in search of illegal gambling machines. Pursuant to a warrant authorizing the officers to seize any such machines, as well as any money connected to the sale or control of them, the officers officially seized approximately $50,000.

In reality, according to appellants Micah Jessop and Brittan Ashjian, the officers stole an additional $276,000 in cash and rare coins for themselves. Jessop and Ashjian sued the officers for violating their right not to face unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment and their right to due process of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. They hoped to find justice, but they were in for a rude awakening.

Both the trial court and the three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that, because “appellants did not have a clearly established Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from the theft of property seized pursuant to a warrant, the City Officers are entitled to qualified immunity.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently, according to the Ninth Circuit, you don’t have a “clearly established” right to not have police steal your property while executing a search warrant (though you may be able to pursue a claim against the offending officers under state tort law, and the state is presumably still free to prosecute them).

Unfortunately, the injustice suffered by Micah Jessop and Brittan Ashjian in this case is a symptom of a larger disease: the reflexive, blind deference most courts show to government officials even when they are clearly in the wrong.

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