District of Columbia v. Wesby

Today, Justice Clarence Thomas announced the Court’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Wesby. The facts make it a fun read:

The officers smelled marijuana and saw beer bottles and cups of liquor on the floor. In fact, the floor was so dirty that one of the partygoers refused to sit on it while being questioned. . . . In the living room, the officers found a makeshift strip club. Several women were wearing only bras and thongs, with cash tucked into their garter belts. The women were giving lap dances while other partygoers watched. Most of the onlookers were holding cash and cups of alcohol. . . . The officers found more debauchery upstairs. A naked woman and several men were in the bedroom. A bare mattress—the only one in the house—was on the floor, along with some lit candles and multiple open condom wrappers. A used condom was on the windowsill.

And the explanation of probable cause and qualified immunity make it worth it:

Probable Cause

To determine whether an officer had probable cause for an arrest, “we examine the events leading up to the arrest, and then decide ‘whether these historical facts, viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to’ probable cause.” Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U. S. 366, 371 (2003) (quoting Ornelas v. United States, 517 U. S. 690, 696 (1996)). Because probable cause “deals with probabilities and depends on the totality of the circumstances,” 540 U. S., at 371, it is “a fluid concept” that is “not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules,” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U. S. 213, 232 (1983). It “requires only a probability or substantial chance of criminal activity, not an actual showing of such activity.” Id., at 243–244, n. 13 (1983). Probable cause “is not a high bar.” Kaley v. United States, 571 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 18).

Qualified Immunity

Under our precedents, officers are entitled to qualified immunity under §1983 unless (1) they violated a federal statutory or constitutional right, and (2) the unlawfulness of their conduct was “clearly established at the time.” Reichle v. Howards, 566 U. S. 658, 664 (2012). “Clearly established” means that, at the time of the officer’s conduct, the law was “‘sufficiently clear’ that every ‘reasonable official would understand that what he is doing’ ” is unlawful. al-Kidd, supra, at 741 (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U. S. 635, 640 (1987)). In other words, existing law must have placed the constitutionality of the officer’s conduct “beyond debate.” al-Kidd, supra, at 741. This demanding standard protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”
Malley v. Briggs, 475 U. S. 335, 341 (1986).