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Man's claims against officers can proceed

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of police officers in a man's civil suit, finding the man may have Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims against them.

In Larry D. Best, Jr. v. City of Portland, et al., No. 07-2765, Larry Best filed a civil suit in federal court against the city of Portland, Portland Police Department, and four police officers while Best's criminal case in state court for possession of methamphetamine and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine was still pending.

While the criminal case was proceeding, Best moved to suppress evidence, arguing the searches of two homes violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court denied his motion; the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed. Best then filed a motion to reconsider, but the court never ruled on it because the prosecutor dropped the charges against him.

The District Court granted summary judgment in the civil suit in favor of the city, the police department, and the four officers. The District Court granted summary judgment on his Fourth Amendment claims against the officers based on collateral estoppel and held his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination couldn't have been violated because the case was dismissed before it went to trial.

But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found collateral estoppel didn't bar Best's Fourth Amendment claims. Under Indiana law, rulings on pretrial motions aren't necessarily final, and the trial court's suppression ruling wasn't final because it was open to reconsideration by the trial court on Best's renewed motion and during a second appeal if he was convicted, wrote Judge Ann Claire Williams. In addition, because the prosecutor voluntarily dismissed the case, there was no "final judgment on the merits" as collateral estoppel requires, she continued.

The District Court erred in ruling that Best's Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination wasn't violated because the case didn't go to trial. The District Court understood that any statements he made to police were never used against him in a "criminal case," or trial, because the charges were dismissed. But the 7th Circuit hasn't adopted the view that "criminal case" means "at trial," wrote the judge.

Best alleges that statements he made were used in violation of the Fifth Amendment long after charges were initiated against him - at a suppression hearing - which is enough to allege they were used in a "criminal case" in violation, so summary judgment was an error, wrote Judge Williams.

The appellate judges remanded the issues to the District Court because there isn't enough of a record for them to affirm on an alternative basis and didn't enter any opinion on the merits. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals also affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city of Portland.

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