Media for Messerschmidt v. MillenderAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 2011 in Messerschmidt v. Millender
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 22, 2012 in Messerschmidt v. Millender
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Our precedence have recognized an exception allowing suit when again "it is obvious that no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a warrant should issue."
The "shield of immunity" otherwise conferred by the warrant will be lost, we have said, where the warrant was "based on an affidavit so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable."
This case does not fall within that narrow exception.
Now, we do not decide whether this warrant was overbroad in authorizing a search for all guns when there was information only about a specific one.
That specific one was a pistol grip sawed-off shotgun, owned by a known gang member, who had just fired the weapon five times in public in an attempt to murder another person because she had "called the cops" on him.
Even if the warrant were overbroad, it would not have been entirely unreasonable for an officer to conclude that someone who owned a pistol grip sawed-off shotgun might own other illegal guns or that seizure of the weapons was necessary to prevent further attacks on Kelly.
Now, with respect to the warrant's authorization to search for evidence of gang membership, we do not think it would be again "entirely unreasonable for an officer to view this episode as not simply a domestic dispute."
In the affidavit he submitted in support of the warrant, Messerschmidt described the crime as "a spousal assault and an assault with a deadly weapon."
And Bowen who is a known member of Mona Park Crips Gang had attacked Kelly after becoming enraged that she had called the cops on him.
A reasonable officer could view the attack as motivated not just by the souring of Bowen's romantic relationship with Kelly but also by a desire to prevent her from disclosing details of his gang activity to the police.
And a reasonable officer could conclude that evidence of Bowen's gang membership could help establish a motive for the attack, support related charges such as witness intimidation that could be brought against Bowen, demonstrate that Bowen had familiarity with sawed-off shotguns or tie him to other evidence found at the residence.
Now, on top of all this the officers sought and obtained approval of the warrant application from the superior officer and a deputy district attorney before submitting it to the magistrate.
The statements in the warrant were true.
The officers thus “took every step that could reasonably be expected of them.”
To conclude that no reasonable officer could believe that the warrant was supported by probable cause would mean not only that Messerschmidt and Lawrence were plainly incompetent, but that their supervisor, the deputy district attorney, and the magistrate were as well.
So, even if the warrant in this case were invalid, it was not so obviously lacking in probable cause that the officers can be considered plainly incompetent for concluding otherwise.
The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denying qualified immunity to the officers is reversed.
Justice Breyer has filed a concurring opinion.
Justice Kagan has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.
Justice Sotomayor has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Ginsburg has joined.