State Court Suppression of Evidence Alone Insufficient to Establish § 1983 Claim
Suppression of evidence in a state court does not, by itself, raise a factual issue about whether law enforcement officers violated the defendant’s clearly established rights, the Fifth Circuit recently held.
Several law enforcement officers went to the trailer home of Cedric and Leola Cleveland, where Mrs. Cleveland was inside, investigating suspected criminal activity. While some officers knocked on the front door, others circled around to the back of the trailer where one officer “noticed there was a large marijuana plant clearly visible through the mobile home’s windows.”
Mr. Cleveland arrived home soon thereafter, and he told officers that he would let them inside the house. He called out to his wife and told her that he was with the officers and that she could come out. Officers testified they then heard the sound of a person running through the house, prompting them to kick down the door and enter the house.
Inside the house, officers performed a protective sweep, sat down with the Cleveland’s at their kitchen table and recorded a conversation in which the Clevelands consented to the search of their home. The Clevelands agree they consented to the search, but only after police had threatened to “flip” their home if they did not consent, causing them to ultimately consent out of concern for his property. The search turned up multiple marijuana plants, guns, and ammunition, and Mr. Cleveland was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
A state court then suppressed the evidence from the search, and the Clevelands filed a § 1983 claim against officers for searching their home without a warrant. The trial judge found the officers were entitled to qualified immunity and the Clevelands appealed, pro se, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
On appeal, the Clevelands argued that officers violated their Fourth Amendment rights by peering through their window and later forcibly entering their home, resulting in discovery of the evidence used to charge Mr. Cleveland that the state court suppressed. On that issue, the Fifth Circuit held, “the mere fact that the evidence was suppressed in state court does not, by itself, raise a factual issue about whether the officers violated the Clevelands’ clearly established rights.”
Conducting its own evaluation of the evidence and assuming all facts in favor of the Clevelands, the Fifth Circuit then affirmed the trial judge’s decision.
Read the full case: Cleveland v. Liberty County Sherrif’s Dep’t
This case law update was written by James P. Garay Heelan, associate attorney, Shaw Bransford & Roth, PC.
For thirty years, Shaw Bransford & Roth P.C. has provided superior representation on a wide range of federal employment law issues, from representing federal employees nationwide in administrative investigations, disciplinary and performance actions, and Bivens lawsuits, to handling security clearance adjudications and employment discrimination cases
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