LEGAL UPDATES FROM CHRISTOPER BOYLE, ESQ.

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January 2016

For those of you wondering about the 4th Circuit case on Tasers, Armstrong v Pinehurst, I will be getting something out to you all shortly. (weekend, latest) It’s not a case applicable to troops here in the Third Circuit, but it is certainly worth taking note of, as this may be the way the courts round these parts start to lean. CB

Cooper v. City of Philadelphia, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 803 (3RD Circuit January 19, 2016)

Larry Cooper appeals the grant of summary judgment on his false arrest, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment claims against Officer BC. … Mr. Cooper alleges that, based on a faulty identification by a robbery victim, he spent 77 days in jail for a crime he did not commit (and, we note, for his courageous acts worthy of a Good Samaritan comparison). Although we share Mr. Cooper's frustration with the way events unfolded, we have no choice but to agree with the District Court that Officer BC had probable cause to arrest him. As a result, we affirm.

In April 2012, Mr. Cooper, who was leaving Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia after emergency surgery on his wife, witnessed two men committing a robbery. He initially chased after the robbers but stopped shortly thereafter. After ending his pursuit, he went up to the victim and offered his cell phone to call the police. The victim, who had been robbed from behind and had seen Mr. Cooper near the perpetrators (likely while he was giving chase), mistakenly believed that he had been involved in the robbery.

When Officer BC arrived on the scene, the victim said that Mr. Cooper had robbed him. Mr. Cooper says he tried to explain to Officer BC that he was not involved in the robbery, but he alleges that the officer seemed uninterested in hearing his side of the story. Officer BC also spoke with an eyewitness who saw the aftermath of the robbery, but not the robbery itself. …The events at the scene of the robbery concluded with Officer BC arresting Mr. Cooper. The charges against Mr. Cooper were eventually dropped, but not before he had spent two and a half months in jail due to his inability to make bail. In this lawsuit, Mr. Cooper alleges that Officer BC acted unreasonably during the encounter and that the arrest was constitutionally defective.

II. Discussion

The central question is whether Officer BC had probable cause to arrest Mr. Cooper for the robbery. If he did, then Mr. Cooper's claims fail. …We have held that a victim's identification, even without any other evidence, will "usually be sufficient to establish probable cause."… This rule, while not absolute, is subject only to limited exceptions for cases where the officer is aware of "[i]ndependent exculpatory evidence or substantial evidence of the witness's own unreliability." … In such instances, the identification might be "fatally undermined." …

Here, Mr. Cooper has not presented any evidence that Officer BC knew of independent exculpatory evidence. Instead, he merely asserts that the Officer was wrong to reject his version of events without doing any additional investigation. However, in light of the identification, Officer BC was not constitutionally required to "undertake an exhaustive investigation in order to validate the probable cause that, in his mind, already existed." Merkle v. Upper Dublin School Dist…

Nor has Mr. Cooper presented substantial evidence of the unreliability of the victim's identification. He relies heavily on the victim being robbed from behind and thus not immediately seeing the perpetrators. But the victim's representation that he saw the perpetrators, including Mr. Cooper, immediately after the robbery is sufficient to establish probable cause. The Fourth Amendment does not require that an identification be perfect in all respects. For instance, in Wilson, which also involved a plaintiff who had been jailed for a robbery he did not commit, we found probable cause based on a victim's identification even though 1) the plaintiff was four to seven inches shorter than the victims had described, 2) one of the victims did not pick the plaintiff out of a photo array, and 3) a witness put the plaintiff somewhere else during the time of the robbery...

As we made clear in Wilson, the exception for unreliable witnesses is reserved for fairly unusual circumstances. … ("For example, if two identifying witnesses had told the officer that the robber was 7', and the officer knew that the person in the photograph was 5', the positive identification would not be enough."). This is not such a case. None of Mr. Cooper's allegations have "fatally undermined" the identification. For these reasons, we must affirm.

COMMENT: I am not without sympathy for poor Mr. Cooper. Still, if you had a quarter for every mope who said "It wasn't me", you could probably retire. I think the above average law enforcement officer, those who read these legal Updates, for instance, know that eyewitness identifications are often suspect and seek, as Officer BC did, to find other evidence to confirm or dispel their suspicions. Absent that, we go with what we got.

Long v. City of Phila., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5169 (E.D. Pa. January 15, 2016)

Plaintiff Gary Long, Jr. was arrested in Langhorne, Pennsylvania on October 28, 2014 pursuant to an arrest warrant previously issued for a different man also named Gary Long. He was transported to Philadelphia where he remained in custody for almost three days. …

On October 28, 2014, Long, who is caucasian, was driving in Langhorne when he had a disagreement with another driver that led to a police response. …A Langhorne police officer arrived at the scene and requested Long's "identification and insurance information." … The officer ran Long's identification and "erroneously decided there was an open warrant" for his arrest. …

In fact, the warrant was for "another man named Gary Long," an African-American with a different birthdate. … Several years earlier DC, then a Montgomery County employee, allegedly entered incorrect information into Pennsylvania's Common Pleas Case Management System. This error allegedly caused Long's information to be "linked to a warrant for another man named Gary Long." …

The Langhorne officer contacted the Pennsylvania State Police to take Long to Philadelphia, where the warrant in question had originated. … A state trooper arrived and drove Long to a state police barracks. … Long told an officer at the barracks that the warrant was not for him. … The officer replied that the person identified in the warrant "could be [] him" and Long was then taken to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF") in Philadelphia…

… After two nights and three days in CFCF, Long was released on October 30, 2014. … Long claims he "suffered a painful kidney stone attack" during his imprisonment and missed a work presentation, which was the "last stage of an interview process for a new job." …As a result, he was not further considered for the position…All of this caused Long to suffer "emotional distress, fear, anxiety, and embarrassment." …

The amended complaint mentions DC in only five of its eighty paragraphs. … The sole factual "allegations" are that DC "at all times material to this action was a citizen and resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and an employee of Montgomery County" and that she "entered incorrect information into CPCMS which caused plaintiff's identifying information to be linked to a warrant for another man named Gary Long." … Long does not allege any facts which show that DC acted intentionally or deliberately indifferent in committing a data entry error that six years later led to Long's arrest. Moreover, there is no way Long can cure this deficiency. In essence, Long would have to plead factual allegations that would establish, beyond a speculative level, that DC substituted information from some other "Gary Long" for that of the plaintiff with the express intention of violating the plaintiff's constitutional rights or with deliberate indifference to those rights. Indeed, at oral argument Long's counsel acknowledged that he would have no basis to do so…

There are no facts alleged that suggest DC, acting under color of law, deprived Long of any federal right, let alone his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. ... At most, Long's amended complaint could establish that DC was negligent when she entered incorrect information into the system. Negligence by public officials, however, is not actionable as a due process violation. …

COMMENT: Maybe it's the cynic in me, the one that used to push an RPC around, but I have to believe that the "disagreement" that Mr. Long had with another driver, the disagreement which drew the attention of police in the first place, was most likely not them each telling the other that they were the better driver. Hence, my sympathy drops down a level or two. Still, we would certainly prefer to have the right guy in lockup, and that's some other numbnut named "Long", not this one. While we can't just accept wanted people at their word when they say "You got the wrong guy Officer", and even though there was mere negligence at most in this case, it is good to know that someone discovered the error so quickly.

Stump The Chump

Chump:

I am taking a class toward my Bachelor's and am writing a paper. Hope this is an easy one for you. Is there a legal theory that says there are 'natural crimes'? What I mean, is something that says that certain things are wrong naturally, like murder? Anything you have that I could use would be greatly appreciated.

Paper Pusher Penny

Penny:

Awesome question, forcing me to search the memory banks for the terms "mala in se" and "mala prohibita". Believe it or not, I didn't have to look them up. Alright, I did. But I knew just what you were talking about. "Mala in se" is the term you are looking for. It means acts that are crimes because they are wrong in and of themselves. Murder is a good example. Burglary and other thefts are another. "Mala prohibita", on the other hand, are crimes that are wrong because we as a society have decided they are wrong, like underage drinking, speeding and gambling. If this one appears on Jeopardy, I am betting it will be a $1000 question. Good luck in your class.

The Chump