Malley v. Briggs

PETITIONER: Edward Malley and Rhode Island
RESPONDENT: James R. Briggs and Louisa Briggs
LOCATION: Rhode Island District Court

DOCKET NO.: 84-1586
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 475 US 335 (1986)
ARGUED: Nov 13, 1985
DECIDED: Mar 05, 1986
GRANTED: May 28, 1985

Ann M. Sheadel - on behalf of Petitioners
Leonard Decof - on behalf of Respondents

Facts of the case

In December 1980, the Rhode Island State Police force was conducting an authorized wiretap on the telephone of Paul Driscoll. On December 20, the police intercepted two phone calls from an unknown source that made reference to marijuana use that had occurred at a party the previous night at the Briggs’ residence. Edward Malley was the police officer in charge of the Driscoll investigation, and on the basis of these two calls, he drew up felony charges for the Briggs. The charges were presented to a state district court judge in February 1981, and the judge signed warrants for the Briggs’ arrest. The Briggs were arrested in their home on March 19, 1981, and taken to a police station where they were booked and held for several hours before being released. When presented to a grand jury, the charges were dropped.

The Briggs sued Malley in district court and alleged that his application for the warrants for their arrest violated their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. After the evidence was presented to the jury, Malley moved for a direct verdict, which the district court granted. The district court held that it was judge’s signing of the arrest warrants that was improper and that an officer who believes that he is acting on correct information is entitled to immunity from prosecution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed and held that an officer is not entitled to immunity unless the officer had an “objectively reasonable” basis to believe that the alleged facts are sufficient to establish probable cause for an arrest warrant.


Is a police officer entitled to immunity when he causes an unlawful arrest by presenting a judge with an application for a warrant that does not present a probable cause?

Media for Malley v. Briggs

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 13, 1985 in Malley v. Briggs

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Edward Malley against Briggs.

Ms. Sheadel, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Ann M. Sheadel:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Today this Court is faced with the question of the extent of a police officer's civil liability for damages resulting from an arrest made pursuant to a warrant which the police officer sought and obtained from a natural and detached magistrate.

Specifically, can a police officer who applied for and obtained an arrest warrant face civil liability for damages on the theory that he should have known that the facts recited in the affidavit submitted to the magistrate were insufficient to establish probable cause?

Warren E. Burger:

Ms. Sheadel, may I interrupt you just for a moment to announce that Justice Prennan will be delayed in arriving, but will participate in all the cases.

Ann M. Sheadel:

We ask this Court to find that a police officer cannot be amenable to suit in such a situation, but rather that he is in fact immune, from liability.

In this context, the police officer's actions should be protected from suit for the same reasons, the same policy concerns, that have teen enunciated by this Court in its decisions regarding immunity and where to draw the line between immune actions and non-immune actions.

In deciding where to draw such a line, the Court has recognized that the answer must be found in a balance between the evils inevitable in either alternative, recognizing that in any balance drawn not all interests can be protected.

In such a balance, the Court has recognized that on the one hand it is trying to vindicate constitutional rights, while on the other hand it is trying to protect officials who are required to exercise discretion in fulfilling their duties.

In determining the extent of any such immunity, the Court has considered two factors.

The first factor considered by the Court has been the function performed by the official in question and the historical extent of the immunity that's been granted to that function.

The second consideration has been the policies that exist in applying that immunity to the action at question.

In applying this standard to this case, the function that we're examining is the function of police officer in applying to a magistrate for an arrest warrant, and the question then becomes should this function receive a full exemption from liability.

We believe that this function should receive a full exemption from liability.

Our primary argument about the functional analysis of the police officer applying to a magistrate for an arrest warrant is that the function that the police officer is performing is very similar to the function of a prosecuting attorney in placing information before a grand jury and asking the grand jury to find that probable cause exists and to indict.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Ms. Sheadel, do you concede that the facts that were available here were not sufficient to justify the issuance of a warrant?

Ann M. Sheadel:

We would not concede that there was absence of probable cause in this case, Your Honor.

But we do not believe that whether or not this Court believes that probable cause existed would be determinative in the case.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, if you would assume for a, moment that the facts were insufficient to amount to probable cause and if the warrant had issued and evidence obtained as a result of it, would the evidence be excludable in your view under the Leon case at trial?

Ann M. Sheadel:

Using the Leon case, it's possible the evidence could be excluded.

Again, the Leon factors are such that it would require a very specific analysis of the situation in this case.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Why should a different rule apply than in insulating the officer from any damage liability than the rule that would be applied for exclusion of evidence under Leon?

Why shouldn't these two track each other?

Ann M. Sheadel:

We don't believe that this Court has ever said that the two rules are synonymous.

In fact, in its analysis it appears that the Court has considered some different factors.

If in fact the rules were going to be synonymous, it would appear to us that it would question a magistrate's immunity from civil liability because the magistrate is involved in the decision to issue the search warrant or the arrest warrant.

And if we were tracking the exclusionary rule, it would seem that, since the magistrate made a decision that shouldn't have been made, then it would require some kind of analysis of the magisterial exemption from liability.

We believe that--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

But in Leon was there not some indication that perhaps deterrence is a valid objective if the police officer's reliance on the warrant is objectively unreasonable?