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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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