This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, March 31, 2017:
Joliet is a pleasant township of about 150,000 souls located on the Des Plaines River 40 miles southwest of Chicago. It describes itself as going through “a modern day renaissance” after having a near-death financial experience. Then-Mayor Tom Giarrante said three years ago this month:
I am proud to once again report that the State of the City continues to be … stable. As mayor, I will continue to work hard to keep Joliet financially sound by controlling our spending. It won’t be easy, and it won’t always be popular, but I will work to keep our checkbook balanced and we will not balance it by raising property taxes.
Three years earlier, the town had a $17 million deficit. It’s about to have another similar experience.
The Supreme Court last week paved the way. In Manuel v. City of Joliet, the court ruled unanimously that Elijah Manuel was free to bring a claim against the city based on Fourth Amendment violations conducted by Joliet police officers back in 2011. The opinion, written by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, gave Manuel the go-ahead:
The primary question in this case is whether Manuel may bring a claim [against the city] based on the Fourth Amendment to contest the legality of his pre-trial confinement … we hold today that Manuel may challenge his pretrial detention on the ground that it violated [his] Fourth Amendment [rights]….
And violate them it did. It all began shortly after midnight, March 18, 2011, when Joliet police pulled over an automobile in which Elijah Manuel was riding, claiming that his brother who was driving failed to signal for a left turn. Rory Little, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, explained what happened next:
Elijah Manuel alleged that an officer pulled him from a car, beat him, called him racial slurs, and then arrested him for drugs even though a field test on pills Manuel was carrying came back negative. He further alleged that an evidence technician at the police station conducted another test on the pills that also came back negative, but that the technician falsely stated that the test was positive.
Another officer then swore out a complaint against Manuel; based on all these false statements, a county judge ordered Manuel to be detained. Manuel was not released until seven weeks later, after a state police lab reported that the pills contained no controlled substances and “for unknown reasons,” the state prosecutor waited a month to move for dismissal.
Two years later, Manuel sued the City of Joliet and its officers for violation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983, alleging two Fourth Amendment violations: his false arrest, and his prolonged unlawful post-arrest detention.
Manuel lost the first two rounds before appealing his case to the Supreme Court. He had a little help from the U.S. Justice Foundation, the Downsize DC Foundation, the Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Institute on the Constitution, and the Gun Owners of America (GOA) and its foundation. They filed an amicus curiae:
Petitioner Elijah Manuel has appropriately invoked the Fourth Amendment as a basis for his claim of malicious prosecution. Arrested without probable cause, Manuel was detained in actual custody for 48 days during which time the police falsified evidence before a grand jury leading to his arraignment on false charges, which were dropped by the prosecutor only after discovery that the charges were baseless.
The Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures is predicated on the right of the people to be secure in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” Viewed against its common law backdrop, the Amendment’s purpose and scope extend throughout any period of pretrial detention up to and including the day upon which all criminal charges are dropped.
During that time interval, the Fourth Amendment governs the actions of the arresting authorities. While the immediate effect of a violation of the Fourth Amendment is the deprivation of one’s liberty, the interest protected by that Amendment is one’s property rights.
This is a point that GOA has been trying to make for years: an individual has property rights in himself, and thus it flows that he has a right to defend those rights when they are threatened, through the use of deadly force, if necessary. It has seen recent erosions threatening those exercising their Second Amendment rights, and saw this case as another opportunity to make its point: “This is why GOA is working to explain to courts that the Fourth Amendment protects each American’s property interests, including Americans’ property interest in their own body and firearms.”
That Amicus Curiae also provides Manuel’s attorneys with much of what they need when they take the next step: filing for damages against Joliet. Said the brief: “Indeed, by wrongfully holding Manuel in pretrial detention for 48 days, the City of Joliet and its police officers caused him not only emotional distress, but harmed his reputation, inflicted out-of-pocket losses, and deprived him of employment opportunities.”
The size of the check remains indeterminate, of course, but it will likely be large enough to anger Joliet’s citizens, who will ultimately pay for the egregious conduct of its police department. It will also serve as a warning to other cities and towns that might engage in such behavior in the future.
Finally, the court’s decision is an unvarnished win for the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of citizens “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
The GOA’s Amicus brief: ELIJAH MANUEL, Petitioner, v. CITY OF JOLIET, ILLINOIS, ET AL., Respondents.
The Supreme Court’s ruling: MANUEL v. CITY OF JOLIET, ILLINOIS, ET AL.
Opinion analysis: The Fourth Amendment governs unlawful pretrial detention claims even after legal process begins; everything else is remanded, by Rory Little, Law Professor