Stanton v. Sims
Drendolyn Sims was standing in her small, fenced-in front yard when a police officer, without warning or a warrant, kicked in the gate and slammed Ms. Sims against a set of concrete stairs, causing a head laceration and other injuries for which she was taken to the hospital. The officer was chasing a man for failing to heed the officer’s alleged order to stop, though it is disputed whether the officer even gave such an order. Sims sued the officer for a violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The trial court granted immunity to the officer, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the officer’s warrantless intrusion was not justified by the exigencies of the situation because the offense for which he was pursuing the suspect – failing to stop for a police officer’s order – was too minor to justify an intrusion into a third party’s private yard. Public Citizen assisted counsel in preparing the brief in opposition to the officer’s petition for certiorari, arguing, among other things, that there is no conflict among the courts of appeal and that the court of appeals correctly examined all the circumstances in determining that exigent circumstances did not justify the officer’s decision to kick in the gate. On November 4, 2013, the Supreme Court summarily reversed the Ninth Circuit. The Court did not reach the question of whether the officer’s conduct was constitutional but held that he was entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established.