Case Law - is a law based on a
decision of a higher level court,
(either on the state or federal
level), in which a particular case
was evaluated against existing
constitutional law, and further
defined to address future cases.

Higher court judges interpret existing law, apply
their interpretations to a particular standard, and
write that new standard, or "clarification" of the
existing law, to govern future cases.

Here are some of the more noteworthy case laws in the United States relevant
to Refuge Law Enforcement:

Bryan v. MacPherson, Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit -  June 18, 2010
(Taser Deployment)

A case which got tremendous media attention when first issued by the United States Court of Appeals in December of 2009 has gotten virtually no attention since the re-hearing and new opinion was issued June 18th 2010.   While the re-hearing did not change the court’s opinion on the TASER® as an intermediate weapon that must be justified in its use by a strong government interest, it did change the outcome of this case.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has concluded that the law was not clearly established when Officer MacPherson used his TASER® with respect to the TASER® application.  The court asserted:

“However, as of July 24, 2005, there was no Supreme Court decision or decision of our court addressing whether the use of a taser, such as the Taser X26, in dart mode constituted an intermediate level of force. Indeed, before that date, the only statement we had made regarding tasers in a published opinion was that they were among the ‘variety of non-lethal 'pain compliance' weapons used by police forces.’ And, as the Eighth Circuit has noted, ‘[t]he Taser is a relatively new implement of force, and case law related to the Taser is developing.’ Two other panels have recently, in cases involving different circumstances, concluded that the law regarding tasers is not sufficiently clearly established to warrant denying officers qualified immunity. Mattos v. Agrano, 590 F.3d 1082 (9th Cir. 2010) and Brooks v. City of Seattle, 599 F.3d 1018 (9th Cir. 2010).”

As a result of this re-hearing, Officer MacPherson was granted qualified immunity.  Thus, the case against him for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment was dismissed.

It is important to note that the Ninth Circuit continued to hold that under the facts taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the use of the TASER® violated the Constitution.  The court continued it’s holding that TASER® is an intermediate weapon that’s use in the Ninth Circuit must be supported by a strong government interest.

U.S. v. Millis, 2010 U.S. App. - September 2, 2010
(Water jugs on NWR's)

The court reversed Millis’ conviction under 50 C.F.R. § 27.94(a), (Disposal of Waste), for placing full, gallon-sized plastic bottles of water on trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge to help alleviate exposure deaths among undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States.The court held that the common meaning of the term “garbage” within the context of the regulation was sufficiently ambiguous, therefore the defendant’s conviction was improper. The court noted that Millis likely could have been charged under a different regulatory section, such as abandonment of property or failure to obtain a special use permit.

Miranda v Arizona -  June 13, 1966

Ernesto Miranda was a career criminal with an extensive, violent criminal record. In 1963, Miranda
was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona for armed robbery, and for kidnapping and raping a slightly retarded18-year-old woman.  While in police custody he signed a written confession to the crime. After the conviction, his lawyers appealed, on the grounds that Miranda did not know he was protected from

The case, Miranda vs Arizona, made it all the way to the Supreme Court, where the conviction was
overturned. In a landmark ruling issued in 1966, the court established that the accused have the right
to remain silent and that prosecutors may not use statements made by defendants while in police
custody unless the police have advised them of their rights, commonly called the Miranda Rights. The
case was later re-tried, Miranda was convicted on the basis of other evidence, and served 11 years.
He was paroled in 1972, and died in 1976 after being stabbed in a bar fight. A suspect was arrested
for Miranda's murder, but was later released when he exercised his "Miranda" right to remain silent.

For more information on Miranda VS, Arizona, click here

Read the Supreme Court Decision

Berghuis v Thompkins - June 1, 2010

The case, Berghuis v. Thompkins, involved Van Chester Thompkins, who was arrested and remained silent for several hours during a police interrogation. He eventually implicated himself for murder. On appeal, he argued that he had invoked his Miranda right prior to the confession, by remaining silent for a long period of time. 

The Court ruled that Miranda rights only apply when one affirmatively invokes their right against self incrimination, just as they must affirmatively request an attorney. 

Read the Supreme Court Opinion

Tennessee v Garner - March 27, 1985

Supreme Court of the United States held that under the Fourth Amendment, when a law enforcement officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, he or she may use deadly force only to prevent escape if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.

Read the Supreme Court Opinion

Scott v Harris - April 30, 2007

This was a Supreme Court case involving a lawsuit against a sheriff's deputy brought by a motorist who was paralyzed after the officer ran his eluding vehicle off the road during a high-speed car chase. The driver contended that this action was an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The case also involved the question of whether a police officer's qualified immunity shielded him from suit under Section 1983. The court sided with police and ruled that a "police officer's attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.

Read the Supreme Court Opinion

More to follow...

Case Law and Legal Updates