District of Columbia v. Wesby Case Brief

Facts of the Case

District of Columbia police officers responded to a complaint about loud music and illegal activities in a vacant house. Inside, they found the house nearly barren and in disarray. The officers smelled marijuana and observed beer bottles and cups of liquor on the floor, which was dirty. They found a make-shift strip club in the living room, and a naked woman and several men in an upstairs bedroom. Many partygoers scattered when they saw the uniformed officers, and some hid. The officers questioned everyone and got inconsistent stories. Two women identified “Peaches” as the house’s tenant and said that she had given the partygoers permission to have the party. But Peaches was not present. When the officers spoke by phone to Peaches, she was nervous, agitated, and evasive. At first, she  claimed that she was renting the house and had given the partygoers permission to have the party, but she eventually admitted that she did not have permission to use the house. The owner confirmed that he had not given anyone permission to be there. The officers then arrested the partygoers forunlawful entry. Several partygoers sued for false arrest under theand District law. The District Court concluded that the officers lacked probable cause to arrest the partygoers for unlawful entry and that two of the officers, petitioners here, were not entitled to qualified immunity. A divided panel of the D. C. Circuit affirmed. The officers sought further review in the United States Supreme Court.


Did the District of Columbia Code violate the First Amendment of the Constitution?


“The Court reversed and remanded. Justice Thomas authored the majority opinion, which held that (1) the officers had probable cause to arrest the partygoers, and (2) the officers were entitled to qualified immunity under 42 U. S. C. §1983. With regard to probable cause, Justice Thomas explained that the D.C. Circuit erred in analyzing individual factors rather than the totality of the circumstances at the party scene, which could have reasonably led the officers to believe that there was a substantial chance of criminal activity. On the qualified immunity question, the majority held that the officers were protected from suit unless their actions were “clearly” unlawful at the time. Given that they could have reasonably but mistakenly thought that they had probable cause to make the arrests at the time, their actions were not clearly unlawful. Justice Sotomayor filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Justice Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part.”

Case Information

Citation: 583 US (2018)
Granted: Jan 19, 2017
Argued: Oct 4, 2017
Decided: Jan 22, 2018
Case Brief: 2018