Supreme Court rules in favor of local government in qualified immunity case

 

In District of Columbia v. Wesby, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled D.C. police officers reasonably entered a house and subsequently had probable cause to arrest 16 individuals for holding a party at the house. 

Arriving at a primarily vacant house in March, 2008, police found a makeshift strip club and a number of high or intoxicated individuals. Two women said "Peaches" was renting the home and gave permission for the party, and the woman known as Peaches confirmed the statement; however, the landlord of the home later said Peaches had not yet signed a lease. 

Partygoers were charged with disorderly conduct, and sued the District of Columbia for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment. The D.C. Circuit court concluded there was no probable cause for arrest since Peaches had issued the invitation and officers had no reason the believe the partygoers "knew or should have known" their "entry was unwanted." 

The Supreme Court reversed the decision after looking at the totality of circumstances and concluding that officers made an "entirely reasonable inference" based upon the condition of the house, the partygoers' conduct, their reaction to police presence, their answers to questions, and Peaches' invitation. Despite partygoers' assertions of bona fide belief they had permission to be in the house, officers were granted qualified immunity for determining partygoers "were knowingly taking advantage of a vacant house as a venue for their late-night party."

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