Oct 19, 2020

Supreme Court Addresses Right to Be Free From "Unreasonable" Seizures

By Brian R. Lehrer, Esq.

In a case involving a claim for excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Supreme Court recently held that whether a defendant police office was entitled to qualified immunity for a shooting was a fact issue for a jury to decide. Baskin v. Martinez, 243 N.J. 112 (2020).


Plaintiff, Bryheim Baskin, claimed that a justifiable police chase ended in an unjustifiable police shooting. He alleged that the detective who chased and eventually shot him, pulled the trigger when plaintiff had his hands above his head with his palms open and held no weapon. The defendant contrasted plaintiff’s version, stating that when he finally caught up to the plaintiff, the plaintiff turned and pointed in the defendant’s direction an object that looked like a gun. 


Plaintiff brought an excessive force action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The specific constitutional right at issue was the fourth amendment right of every person to be free from “unreasonable” seizures. 


The defendant raised the doctrine of qualified immunity which generally protects government officials from civil liability for discretionary acts that do not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Ordinarily, whether an official is entitled to the shield of qualified immunity is a question of law to be decided by the Court. However, the account in this matter was sharply contested and the Court was obligated to accept the plaintiff’s facts as true for the purposes of determining the issue of qualified immunity on summary judgment. The Court thus held that the issue was for a jury. 


DISCLAIMER: This Alert is designed to keep you aware of recent developments in the law.  It is not intended to be legal advice, which can only be given after the attorney understands the facts of a particular matter and the goals of the client.