In Ziglar v. Abbasi, the Supreme Court in a 4-2 decision granted a number of high level federal executive agency officials qualified immunity related to a claim they conspired to violate the equal protection rights of a number of undocumented immigrants held on suspicion of a connection to terrorism after September 11, 2001. 

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights.  Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

This case doesn’t involve any state or local government officials. But every qualified immunity case matters.

In a unanimous opinion in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez the Supreme Court rejected the “provocation rule,” where police officers using reasonable force may be liable for violating the Fourth Amendment because they committed a separate Fourth Amendment violation that contributed to their need to use force. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule.

Police officer entered the shack Mendez was living in without a warrant and unannounced. Mendez thought the officers were the property owner and picked up the BB gun he used to shoot rats so he could stand up. When the officers saw the gun, they shot him resulting in his leg being amputated below the knee.  

In Nelson v. Colorado the Supreme Court struck down a Colorado law requiring defendants whose criminal convictions have been invalidated to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence in order to receive a refund of fees, court costs, and restitution. According to the Court in a 7-1 opinion, this scheme violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.

Shannon Nelson was convicted on a number of charges from the alleged sexual and physical abuse of her children. Her conviction was reversed due to a trial court error; a new jury acquitted her of all charges. Louis Alanzo Madden was convicted of two sex crimes. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed his conviction; the state did not appeal or retry the case.

The only way Nelson or Madden could recover fees, court costs, and restitution was filing a civil claim under Colorado’s Exoneration Act, which requires them to show by clear and convincing evidence their actual innocence.

If state legislatures don’t create an exception to their “no-impeachment” rules for jurors who make racially biased statements courts will read such an exception into their rules of evidence following the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado. At least 16 states already have adopted such an exception.  

Most states, including Colorado, and the federal government have a “no-impeachment” rule which prevents jurors from testifying after a verdict about what happened during deliberations with limited exceptions that do not include that a juror expressed racial bias. The rationale behind no-impeachment rules is to decrease the chances of juror being harassed post-verdict and to encourage jurors to “engage in searching and candid deliberations.”

Five days after assuming office President Trump signed an executive order threatening to take away federal funding from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions. The executive order leaves it to the Secretary of Homeland Security to define “sanctuary jurisdictions.” Unsurprisingly, a number of cities and counties have sued the President over this executive order including San Francisco, Santa Clara County, and Richmond, California, and Lawrence and Chelsea, Massachusetts.  

By mid-April a court will likely grant or deny a preliminary injunction in the Santa Clara County case. At this point we know the legal allegations the cities and counties have made against the President, and the President has responded to the Santa Clara County and San Francisco lawsuits.

CSG Midwest

Individuals put in prison for a crime they did not commit are now eligible for compensation in Michigan. For every year in which a person was wrongfully incarcerated, he or she will be eligible for $50,000 from the state. Individuals have 18 months upon being released from custody to seek compensation via the Michigan Court of Claims. SB 291, signed into law in late 2016, directs Michigan’s treasurer to establish a wrongful-imprisonment compensation fund.

In District of Columbia v. Wesby the Supreme Court will decide whether, when the owner of a vacant house informs police he has not authorized entry, an officer assessing probable cause to arrest those inside for trespassing may discredit the suspects' claims of an innocent mental state.

Facts similar to those in this case may not arise very often. But police officers must assess claims of innocence in numerous other instances (theft, assault, even homicide). 

CSG Midwest
A U.S. circuit court has dismissed claims by several Ohio death-row inmates that a state law on capital punishment unconstitutionally conceals information from them. The November decision affirmed a lower court ruling that the prisoners had no standing because they couldn’t prove harm from the denial of information, The (Toledo) Blade reports.

All Supreme Court qualified immunity cases, including Ziglar v. Turkmen, Ashcroft v. Turkmen, and Hasty v. Turkmen, affect state and local governments. These cases raise issues that frequently come up in run-of-the-mill qualified immunity cases, in particular, whether the court defined the “established law” at a high level of generality instead of considering the specific facts of the case when deciding whether to grant or deny qualified immunity.     

A number of “out-of-status” aliens were arrested and detained on immigration charges shortly after 9/11. They claim they were treated in a “discriminatory and punitive” manner while confined and detained long after it was clear they were never involved in terrorist activities. They have sued a number of high level federal government officials including former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Robert Mueller, former Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, James Ziglar, and two wardens and an assistant warden at the federal detention center where they were held.   

Mesa v. Hernandez provides a qualified immunity quandary. If Agent Mesa wins his qualified immunity claim, other government officials in the future may lose their qualified immunity claims. 

United States Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa, Jr., shot and killed Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, a fifteen-year-old Mexican national, who was standing on the Mexico side of the U.S./Mexico border. At the time of the shooting Agent Mesa didn’t know that Hernandez was a Mexican citizen. 

The question of most interest to state and local governments in Mesa v. Hernandez is whether qualified immunity may be granted or denied based on facts – such as the victim’s legal status – unknown to the officer at the time of the incident.

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