Messerschmidt v. Millender

Date01 September 2012
Published date01 September 2012
Subject MatterRecent Legal Developments
Recent Legal Developments
Messerschmidt v. Millender:
Expanding Probable Cause
and Restricting Liability
Darrell L. Ross
In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether p olice officers a re
entitled to qualified immunity when their conduct does not violate any clearly established right
of which a reasonable person would have known when requesting a search warrant. The Court
found that the officers acted in a reasonable manner consistent with the Fourth Amendment
requirements for securing a valid search warrant. The Court’s decision expanded the scope of
probable cause and restricted liability of officers, holding that officers are entitled to qualified
immunity when obtaining a valid search warrant.
qualified immunity, search warrant, Fourth Amendment, liability, good faith
The constitution of the United States and individual state constitutions author ize and restrict police
powers. The authority of the police to perform their sworn duties is underscored in statutes, ordi-
nances, and frequently court decisions. The failure of the police to adhere to U.S. Constitutional
requirements, as interpreted by the courts, increases the risk of a case being dismissed or lost in
court, but also increases the risk of exposure to civil liability. The responsibility for law enforce-
ment officers to perform their duties within the boundaries of the law requires that they keep
abreast of changes of the law in order to perform their constitutional duties lawfully while reduc-
ing their risk of civil liability.
Among the more commonly performed duties by the police is conducting searches. While the
preferred method for conducting a search is to secure a warrant first, t he police may als o conduct
searches without a warrant under certain circumstances. Past court decisions have described the
criteria for conducting a search and securing a warrant and when evidence is excluded fro m a
criminal case it is frequently due to an officer’s failure to follow the law (Walker & Hemmens,
Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Darrell L. Ross, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, Valdosta State University, 1500 North Pat-
terson Street, Valdosta, GA 31698, USA
Criminal Justice Review
37(3) 416-427
ª2012 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016812452524

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