Sunday, August 19, 2018

No officers, you may not ignore plainly exculpatory evidence when making a seizure

One angry teenager accuses his parents of bizarre acts of child abuse.

But five younger siblings deny abuse and say they love their parents; a doctor who examines the children finds them healthy with no signs of abuse; and a month earlier an investigator had "unsubstantiated" the teenager's claim of abuse.

Can officials seize the children anyway?

Of course not. This was "a child abuse situation that cried out for investigation and confirmation." But "[a]n officer contemplating an arrest is not free to disregard plainly exculpatory evidence, even if substantial inculpatory evidence (standing by itself) suggests that probable cause exists." And "[l]ike probable cause, suspicion to seize children must exist at the moment of the seizure, and an official is not free to disregard plainly exculpatory evidence when it undermines substantial inculpatory evidence that reasonable suspicion exists."

So says the Eighth Circuit, in an opinion affirming the district court's denial of one official's motion to dismiss the parents' 1983 action on qualified-immunity grounds.

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