Sunday, November 30, 2014

Cert. Grant: San Francisco v. Sheehan; The Fourth Amendment and the ADA

Police shootings are popular subjects right now. Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving an incident at a group home for mentally ill individuals in San Francisco. Officers shot, but did not kill, Teresa Sheehan, a woman whom they knew to suffer from mental illness, as she attempted to attack them with a knife. Of course, the story is more complicated than that. Sheehan's attorneys describe the knife as "a bread knife." And the officers entered Sheehan's room after she told them not to.
Anyway, the case gives rise to two issues:

(1) Whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement officers to provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody; and
(2) whether it was clearly established that even where an exception to the warrant requirement applied, an entry into a residence could be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment by reason of the anticipated resistance of an armed and violent suspect within.

Justice Breyer is recused (his brother, a federal district court judge in California, heard the case below).

The lower courts are split on whether the ADA applies to arrests. The Tenth Circuit has said it can. In Sheehan's case, the Ninth Circuit agreed, noting two plausible claims: (1) wrongful arrest, where police wrongly arrest someone with a disability because they misperceive the effects of that disability as criminal activity; and (2) reasonable accommodation, where, although police properly investigate and arrest a person with a disability for a crime unrelated to that disability, they fail to reasonably accommodate the person's disability in the course of investigation or arrest, causing the person to suffer greater injury or indignity in that process than other arrestees.

The case deals with the second claim, and it does so in the context of a civil rights action (pursuant to 42 USC 1983) at the summary judgment stage. But the decision the Court ultimately writes will be the first from the Court on the relationship between the ADA and the Fourth Amendment. We should learn whether an individual's disability can alter the Fourth Amendment's reasonableness analysis and (possibly) glean clues as to the plausibility of suppressing evidence obtained in violation of the ADA (and the Fourth Amendment). It is certainly a case worth watching if you are presented with a mentally ill client whose arrest related to the illness.
We will keep track of this case as it makes its way to final decision.


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