It’s well established that courts will not admit at trial evidence obtained through police misconduct. This means that police can’t coerce you into making a statement and they need to have reasonable suspicion to initiate a criminal investigation of you.
Courts have also long recognized claims for malicious prosecution, meaning that an individual or agency cannot use the court system to harass someone. For example, you can’t keep filing frivolous lawsuits against someone you don’t like just to make them go through the time and expense of continually going to court.
But what if police misconduct is so egregious that it goes beyond merely a momentary illegal search? What if the entire investigative process is tainted? Does such activity allow you to pursue a civil rights action for malicious prosecution against police? That’s the question that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon answer.
Manuel v. City of Joliet
In January, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Manuel v. City of Joliet. In Manuel, the plaintiff, who is black, was stopped by several white Joliet police officers. The officers allegedly used racial slurs and accused the man of possessing ecstasy tablets. The man told the police they were lying and he only possessed vitamins.
Over the course of seven weeks, the man remained in jail, and police officers testified in court that the man possessed illegal drugs. Finally, a test of the pills revealed that the pills were in fact completely legal vitamins, and the man was released.
Both the district court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals have held that the man could not sue for malicious prosecution, but other circuits have upheld similar claims.
In Manuel, the plaintiff is arguing that a malicious prosecution claim attaches when the Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure is violated. The Seventh Circuit has previously held that the right to not be victimized by malicious prosecution is actually a due process right, and so a viable claim does not arise until judicial proceedings have begun.
The argument may seem academic, but the consequences could have a big impact on civil rights lawsuits. If the Supreme Court sides with the plaintiff in Manuel, it will open the door for malicious prosecution claims against police departments. If it rules against him, then those claims can only be pursued against plaintiffs and prosecutors.
While the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, it has not yet set a date for oral arguments. However, a decision is expected by the end of the year.
Contact a Chicago Civil Rights Lawyer
Civil rights law is constantly changing. What courts may not recognize as a viable claim today could be the basis for a lawsuit tomorrow. Or a unique new case could be the basis for a change in established case law. If you believe the actions of police or another government agency have violated your civil rights, contact Barney & Hourihane today to discuss your case with an experienced civil rights attorney.