This case presents the question of the degree of immunity accorded a defendant police officer in a damages action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 when it is alleged that the officer caused the plaintiffs to be unconstitutionally arrested by presenting a judge with a complaint and a supporting affidavit which failed to establish probable cause.
In December 1980, the Rhode Island State Police were conducting a court-authorized wiretap on the telephone of one Paul Driscoll, an acquaintance of respondents' daughter. On December 20, the police intercepted a call to Driscoll from an unknown individual who identified himself as "Dr. Shogun." The police logsheet summarizes the call as follows: "General conversation re. a party they went to last night . . . caller says I can't believe I was token [sic] in front of Jimmy Briggs — caller states he passed it to Louisa . . . Paul says Nancy was sitting in his lap rolling her thing." App. 78.
Petitioner Edward Malley (hereafter petitioner) was the Rhode Island state trooper in charge of the investigation of Driscoll. After reviewing the logsheet for December 20, petitioner decided that the call from "Dr. Shogun" was incriminating, because in drug parlance "toking" means smoking marihuana and "rolling her thing" refers to rolling a marihuana
Respondents were arrested at their home shortly before six o'clock on the morning of March 19, 1981. They were taken to a police station, booked, held for several hours, arraigned, and released. Local and statewide newspapers published the fact that respondents, who are prominent members of their community, had been arrested and charged with drug possession. The charges against repondents were subsequently dropped when the grand jury to which the case was presented did not return an indictment.
Respondents brought an action under 42 U. S. C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island charging, inter alia, that petitioner, in applying for warrants for their arrest, violated their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The case was tried to a jury, and at the close of respondents' evidence, petitioner moved for and was granted a directed verdict.
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed, holding that an officer who seeks an arrest warrant by submitting a complaint and supporting affidavit to a judge is not entitled to immunity unless the officer has an objectively reasonable basis for believing that the facts alleged in his affidavit are sufficient to establish probable cause. 748 F.2d 715 (1984). We granted certiorari in order to review the First Circuit's application of the "objective reasonableness" standard in this context. 471 U.S. 1124 (1985). We affirm.
Petitioner urges reversal on two grounds: first, that in this context, he is absolutely immune from liability for damages; second, that he is at least entitled to qualified immunity in this case. We reject both propositions and address first the absolute immunity issue.
Our general approach to questions of immunity under § 1983 is by now well established. Although the statute on its face admits of no immunities, we have read it "in harmony with general principles of tort immunities and defenses rather than in derogation of them." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 418 (1976). Our initial inquiry is whether an official claiming immunity under § 1983 can point to a
Our cases also make plain that "[f]or executive officers in general, . . . qualified immunity represents the norm." Harlow, supra, at 807.
Although we have previously held that police officers sued under § 1983 for false arrest are qualifiedly immune, Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 557 (1967), petitioner urges that he should be absolutely immune because his function in seeking an arrest warrant was similar to that of a complaining witness. The difficulty with this submission is that complaining witnesses were not absolutely immune at common law. In 1871, the generally accepted rule was that one who procured the issuance of an arrest warrant by submitting a complaint could be held liable if the complaint was made maliciously and
Nor are we moved by petitioner's argument that policy considerations require absolute immunity for the officer applying for a warrant. As the qualified immunity defense has evolved, it provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law. At common law, in cases where probable cause to arrest was lacking, a complaining witness' immunity turned on the issue of malice, which was a jury question.
As an alternative ground for claiming absolute immunity, petitioner draws an analogy between an officer requesting a warrant and a prosecutor who asks a grand jury to indict a suspect. Like the prosecutor, petitioner argues, the officer must exercise a discretionary judgment based on the evidence
We reemphasize that our role is to interpret the intent of Congress in enacting § 1983, not to make a freewheeling policy choice, and that we are guided in interpreting Congress' intent by the common-law tradition. In Imbler, supra, we concluded that at common law "[t]he general rule was, and is, that a prosecutor is absolutely immune from suit for malicious prosecution." Id., at 437. We do not find a comparable tradition of absolute immunity for one whose complaint causes a warrant to issue. See n. 3, supra. While this observation may seem unresponsive to petitioner's policy argument, it is, we believe, an important guide to interpreting § 1983. Since the statute on its face does not provide for any immunities, we would be going far to read into it an absolute immunity for conduct which was only accorded qualified immunity in 1871.
Even were we to overlook the fact that petitioner is inviting us to expand what was a qualified immunity at common law into an absolute immunity, we would find his analogy between himself and a prosecutor untenable. We have interpreted § 1983 to give absolute immunity to functions "intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process," Imbler, supra, at 430 (emphasis added), not from an exaggerated esteem for those who perform these functions, and certainly not from a desire to shield abuses of office, but because any lesser degree of immunity could impair the judicial process itself. Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 334-335 (1983). We intend no disrespect to the officer applying for a warrant by observing that his action, while a vital part of the administration of criminal justice, is further removed from the judicial phase of criminal proceedings than
In the case of the officer applying for a warrant, it is our judgment that the judicial process will on the whole benefit from a rule of qualified rather than absolute immunity. We do not believe that the Harlow standard, which gives ample room for mistaken judgments, will frequently deter an officer from submitting an affidavit when probable cause to make an arrest is present. True, an officer who knows that objectively unreasonable decisions will be actionable may be motivated to reflect, before submitting a request for a warrant, upon whether he has a reasonable basis for believing that his affidavit establishes probable cause. But such reflection is desirable, because it reduces the likelihood that the officer's request for a warrant will be premature. Premature requests for warrants are at best a waste of judicial resources; at worst, they lead to premature arrests, which may injure the
Furthermore, it would be incongruous to test police behavior by the "objective reasonableness" standard in a suppression hearing, see United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), while exempting police conduct in applying for an arrest or search warrant from any scrutiny whatsoever in a § 1983 damages action.
Accordingly, we hold that the same standard of objective reasonableness that we applied in the context of a suppression hearing in Leon, supra, defines the qualified immunity accorded an officer whose request for a warrant allegedly caused an unconstitutional arrest.
We also reject petitioner's argument that if an officer is entitled to only qualified immunity in cases like this, he is nevertheless shielded from damages liability because the act of applying for a warrant is per se objectively reasonable, provided that the officer believes that the facts alleged in his affidavit are true. Petitioner insists that he is entitled to rely on the judgment of a judicial officer in finding that probable cause exists and hence issuing the warrant. This view of objective reasonableness is at odds with our development of that concept in Harlow and Leon. In Leon, we stated that "our good-faith inquiry is confined to the objectively ascertainable question whether a reasonably well-trained officer would have known that the search was illegal despite the magistrate's authorization." 468 U. S., at 922, n. 23. The analogous question in this case is whether a reasonably well-trained officer in petitioner's position would have known that his affidavit failed to establish probable cause and that he should not have applied for the warrant.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE POWELL, with whom JUSTICE REHNQUIST joins, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
Although I agree with much of the Court's opinion, I write separately to emphasize that substantial weight should be accorded the judge's finding of probable cause in determining whether petitioner state trooper (hereafter petitioner) will be personally liable for damages under § 1983. I also believe that summary judgment would have been appropriate here because respondents failed to show that petitioner's decision to request a warrant was not objectively reasonable.
At the outset, I supplement the facts stated by the Court. Petitioner was supervising a wiretap in a narcotics investigation pursuant to an order by the Rhode Island Superior
On the basis of this conversation, petitioner and his partner decided to seek warrants against respondents for possessing marihuana.
"TO ANY AUTHORIZED OFFICER:
The record before us does not disclose any evidence or claim that Judge Capelli failed to act in a competent judicial manner, or that he failed to exercise independent judgment in determining whether the arrest warrant should issue.
Respondents were prominent citizens in the community, and had never previously been implicated in any violation of the criminal laws. The grand jury did not return an indictment against them, and they instituted this suit under § 1983, seeking to hold petitioner personally liable for damages.
The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed, holding that liability under § 1983 will attach when "an officer is `constitutionally negligent,' that is, where the officer should have known that the facts recited in the affidavit did not constitute probable cause." 748 F.2d 715, 721 (1984). The Court of Appeals also denied petitioner's claim of immunity, purporting to apply the standard of objective reasonableness for qualified immunity articulated in Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982). This Court today affirms.
I agree with the Court's decision that petitioner was not entitled to absolute immunity, and that the Harlow standard of qualified immunity — objective reasonableness — properly applies. In Harlow, however, the Court held that "government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Id., at 818. Putting it differently, we also stated that a claim for qualified immunity "would be defeated [only] if an official `knew or reasonably should have known that the action he took within his sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the [plaintiff].' " Id., at 815, quoting Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 322 (1975).
At one point in the Court's opinion today, it correctly recognizes that as the "qualified immunity defense has evolved, it provides ample protection to all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Ante, at 341 (emphasis added). The Court also says that liability will attach "if, on an objective basis, it is obvious that no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a warrant should issue; but if officers of reasonable competence could disagree on this issue, immunity should be recognized." Ibid.
I agree with the foregoing characterizations of the applicable standard when an official raises the defense of qualified immunity. I disagree, however, with the Court in two major respects. First, rather than deciding whether petitioner's conduct met the foregoing standard, the Court remands for trial on this issue. Yet, as the Court recognizes, unless "no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a warrant should issue," ibid., petitioner should
It is undisputed that wiretaps initiated as part of a drug investigation revealed that respondents had attended a party where marihuana was being smoked, that a marihuana cigarette may have been passed to Mrs. Briggs,
Second, and perhaps of greater importance, in determining whether the police officer acted with objective reasonableness, the Court apparently would give little evidentiary weight to the finding of probable cause by a magistrate or judicial officer.
Our common law has long recognized a "reasonable division of functions," Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 (1979), in law enforcement: the gathering of information is the province of the police, and the weighing and judging of that information is virtually the exclusive province of the magistrate. As Lord Mansfield stated two centuries ago: "It is not fit that the receiving or judging of the information should be left to the discretion of the officer. The magistrate ought to judge; and should give certain directions to the officer." Leach v. Three of the King's Messengers, 19 How. St. Tr. 1001, 1027 (1765), quoted in United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 316 (1972).
We have affirmed that the arrest warrant "should represent both the efforts of the officer to gather evidence of wrongful acts and the judgment of the magistrate that the collected evidence is sufficient to justify [issuance of a warrant]." United States v. United States District Court, supra, at 316. This Court also has recognized that "the informed and deliberate determinations of magistrates . . . are to be preferred over the hurried actions of officers." United States v. Lefkowitz, 285 U.S. 452, 464 (1932). Judicial evaluation of probable cause by a magistrate is the essential "checkpoint between the Government and the citizen." Steagald v. United States,
The police, where they have reason to believe probable cause exists, should be encouraged to submit affidavits to judicial officers.
This Court has long sought to divide the functions of law enforcement to impose on the magistrate the primary responsibility for determining whether a warrant will issue. It is inconsistent with this jurisprudence to imply or hold that the magistrate's determination of probable cause is irrelevant in this suit. A judicial officer's "judgment call" in determining probable cause, although not conclusive, is entitled to substantial evidentiary weight in suits seeking to impose personal liability on the police officer. In this case, in the light of the judge's determination and the evidence of illegal activity, I would hold that petitioner is immune from damages.
I agree with the judgment declining to accord absolute immunity to the officer seeking a warrant, but I do not join the Court's opinion, and I dissent from the decision to remand this case for trial on the immunity issue.
Steven P. Lockman, Jack D. Novik, Burt Neuborne, and Lynette Labinger filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae.
"Your affiant upon oath states that he has reason to believe and does believe that grounds for issuance of an arrest warrant exists [sic] and states the following facts on which such belief is founded:
"Persuant [sic] to a court ordered wire intercept . . . .
"On December 20, 1980, at 5:30 p. m. an incoming call was received to Paul Driscoll recorded on Reel 7, Side 1, Footage 30-48. This unidentified male calls Paul Driscoll and states, `This is Doctor Shotgun' [sic]. General conversation reference to a party they went to last night. Caller states, `I can't believe I was token in front of Jimmy Briggs.' Caller states that he passed it to Luisa [sic]. Caller and Paul talk about another party going on tonight. Paul says that Nancy was sitting in his lap rolling her thing.
"On the same date at 5:56 p.m., Reel 7, Footage 48-59. Male subject Scott calls Paul Driscoll. General conversation about a party at Jaime's parents' [respondents'] home. Also, that they went there last night. They are referring to Jaime's parents' home, that is James and Luisa Briggs. Further, in regard to the conversation at 5:30 p.m. this unidentified male who called himself Doctor Shotgun [sic] stated that he was token in front of Jimmy Briggs. In your affiant's experience, he was smoking a marijuana cigarette in front of James Briggs. He then states that he passed it to Luisa. Luisa would be Luisa Briggs. He passed her a marijuana cigarette. Where Paul states that Nancy was sitting on his lap rolling her thing, she was rolling a marijuana cigarette." App. 72-73.
The statement attached to the affidavit seeking a warrant for the arrest of Louisa Briggs was identical.
The Court previously has stated that "[i]f a magistrate serves merely as a `rubber stamp' for the police or is unable to exercise mature judgment, closer supervision or removal provides a more effective remedy than the exclusionary rule." United States v. Leon, 468 U. S., at 917-918, n. 18. I also believe that closer supervision or removal provides a more effective remedy than personal liability for police officers.
"We begin our analysis of [the Fourth Amendment] mindful of the fact that in this case a search was made pursuant to a search warrant. . . .
"In Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 270, this Court, strongly supporting the preference to be accorded searches under a warrant, indicated that in a doubtful or marginal case a search under a warrant may be sustainable where without one it would fall. In Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, and Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610, the Court, in condemning searches by officers who invaded premises without a warrant, plainly intimated that had the proper course of obtaining a warrant from a magistrate been followed and had the magistrate on the same evidence available to the police made a finding of probable cause, the search under the warrant would have been sustained."
Generally, the judicial officer's determination of probable cause has greater reliability than a police officer's, not only because the judicial officer is not immersed in the criminal investigation, but also because the judicial officer usually has greater time for deliberation and greater familiarity through training or education with the legal concepts concerning probable cause.