Article from Reason by Jacob Sullum.

When a police officer illegally arrests a photographer for taking pictures, can she be sued for violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures”? Yes, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

When police officers steal cash and property worth more than $225,000 while executing a search warrant, can they be sued for violating the owners’ Fourth Amendment rights? No, a different federal appeals court ruled earlier this month.

Welcome to the weird world of qualified immunity, which protects government officials from liability for outrageous conduct if a court determines that the rights they allegedly violated were not “clearly established” at the time. Exactly what that means is fuzzy, but it’s undeniable that qualified immunity lets cops off the hook for actions that would land ordinary people in jail.

In the false arrest case, Stephanie Branch, a police officer who works for Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), charged freelance photographer Avi Adelman with trespassing at a train station, even though DART policy allowed him to take pictures there. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that “no reasonable officer under these circumstances would conclude that she had authority to eject a person complying with DART policies from public property—and then arrest that person for criminal trespass when he failed to depart.”

Read the entire article at Reason.

Image Credit: By Jamelle Bouie [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons