Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 29, 2009


Hopkins v. Bonvicino No. 07-15102 (07/16/09) Before Circuit Judges Shroeder, D. Nelson and Reinhardt

Civil Rights / Section 1983 Claim / Qualified Immunity for Police Officers Conducting a Warrantless Arrest

Opinion (Reinhardt): Police officers Bonvicino, Buelow and Nguyen Appeal the district courts denial of their motion for summary judgment based upon qualified immunity. They are being sued by Bruce Hopkins under 42 Sec. U.S.C. 1983 for (1) entering his house without a warrant, (2) arresting him without probable cause and (3) using excessive force. Hopkins' arrest was prompted by a purported traffic accident, where the other motorist involved followed Hopkins to his house, called the police, told them she smelled alcohol on his breath and waited on his lawn for them to arrive. When they arrived at the house, Nguyen stayed outside on the lawn while officers Bonvicinoa and Buelow let themselves into the house, guns drawn, found Hopkins, handcuffed him and brought him outside where he was placed under citizen's arrest.

The officers argue that the warrantless entry should fall under the emergency exception to the fourth amendment because, they feared the alcohol smell reportedly on his breath indicated that Hopkins might be slipping into a diabetic coma. The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, and also held that this fear does not warrant the show of deadly force. Further, it reasons that an unsubstantiated or uninvestigated accusation from a single private citizen is not probable cause to arrest. The Ninth Circuit holds that the district court properly denied of summary judgment for Bonvicino and Buelow, but that Nguyen was entitled to qualified immunity. AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART AND REMANDED

[Summarized by Noel Kersey]


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