Ochser v. Funk (12/21/11)

We reported the Court of Appeals opinion here. The Supreme Court “granted review to consider the scope of qualified immunity in the context of arrests made pursuant to a facially valid but quashed warrant.” The court upholds the summary judgment but vacates the Court of Appeals’ opinion.

It agrees with the Court of Appeals’ minority that “that when . . . law enforcement officers arrest someone pursuant to a warrant and are confronted with readily available information that objectively casts genuine doubt on the warrant’s validity, the officers must undertake further reasonable inquiry.” Although “officers do not violate that standard . . . if further inquiry on the warrant’s validity would be difficult, time-consuming, or would jeopardize officer safety” the court finds that these officers should have done so (not merely that there was a question of fact about it).

But it concludes that this was not clear at the time, so the officers have qualified immunity.

The court took the case to make law about how to serve an arrest warrant. It says “We hold, and clearly establish prospectively” that law. Actually, as the court seems backhandedly to acknowledge, it is dicta  — which is why the Court of Appeals didn’t bother to conclude that analysis – but, the Supreme Court being supreme, calling it a holding suffices to make it such.

The opinion is by Justice Pelander and so proceeds in small steps, each supported by a lengthy – almost stream-of-consciousness – explanation, with detailed discussion of each and every case.

(link to opinion)