A student sued a police officer, alleging that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights because he arrested the student without probable cause. The federal trial court dismissed the case and the student appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court of appeals reviewed the
undisputed facts. The officer worked as a campus police officer at a
high school. The principal showed the officer a picture of the student posing with a
caricature of himself drawn on a whiteboard with the words "future school
shooter" written above it. The picture had been posted on social media and
parents were calling the school to take their students out of class. The police
officer restrained the student in handcuffs and took him to the police
The student told officers that
the day before, his health teacher had led a discussion about school shootings.
The teacher told students that the stereotypical school shooter was a white
male. Other students began making fun of the student, who was the only white
male in the class. Some students jokingly asked the student not to shoot them.
Another student went to the front of the classroom and sketched a caricature of
the student on the whiteboard and wrote "future school shooter" above
it. The student went around the room, giving fist bumps to students in response
to their pretend pleas to not shoot them and posed for a photograph with the
caricature. The student who drew the picture confirmed this description of
Notwithstanding the student's
explanation, he was arrested and charged with an offense similar to making a
terroristic threat. He was transported to a juvenile detention facility and
spent the night there. He was released the next day on the condition that he
remain in his home and wear an electronic ankle bracelet. The charge was later
The police officer argued that he was immune from suit. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that in order to overcome the immunity, the student must prove that the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right and that the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged misconduct.
In this case, the student was alleging that his Fourth
Amendment rights were violated. The Fourth Amendment protects people from
"unreasonable search and seizure." An arrest is considered a seizure
of a person. A warrantless arrest is permitted if the officer has probable
cause to believe that a criminal offense has been committed. Even if an officer
makes an arrest without probable cause, the officer is immune from suit unless
the officer had fair notice that his conduct was unlawful.
In this case, the court found
that even if the officer arguably lacked probable cause, he was immune from
suit because there was no evidence to show that he violated the law. At the
time of the first arrest, the officer had seen a picture of the student posing
next to a caricature of himself labeled "future school shooter." At
the time of the second arrest, although it seemed apparent at the time that the
student's actions were a joke, there was no precedent to support that an
officer had violated the Fourth Amendment under similar circumstances.
Therefore, the officer was immune from suit for the arrest.