Illinois State Police Officer Shawn Myers was sued by Phillip Osborne (Phynelopha Johnson, as Administrator of the Estate of Phillip Osborne, Now deceased). Osborne alleged that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights and filed a Section 1983 claim.

Officer Myers had setup numerous drug purchases from Osborne using an information over the span of several weeks in 2014. Officer Myers however, did not seek an arrest warrant of Osborne several years later, until 2017. To obtain the warrant, Officer Myers provided information about the previous purchases, about the informant’s identification of the defendant, and drug buy videos.

Osborne was eventually arrested for unlawful delivery of a controlled substance in 2018. He was incarcerated for one week prior to being released on bond. After the drug charges were eventually dropped, Osborne filed suit in federal court, alleging that his civil rights were violated by Officer Myers, and by the counties of Alexander and Pulaski. The claims against the counties were dismissed with prejudice by the Southern District of Illinois. That court also granted summary judgment in favor of Officer Myers, as there was nothing offered in the record to rebut the probably cause and that by acting under the warrant, Officer Myers was protected under qualified immunity. On appeal, Osborne’s Estate appealed the ruling stemming from the false arrest claim.

DISTRICT COURT DID NOT ABUSE ITS DISCRETION IN ADMITTING CERTAIN EVIDENCE

The first portion of the complaint alleges that district court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence regarding the informant matching Osborne with his driver’s license photo, without offering the photo; and when it accepted testimony from Officer Myers about what the informant had told him. To the photo, Osborne’s Estate alleges that pursuant to the best evidence rule, the photo must be produced; and to the second portion, that this was inadmissible hearsay testimony. The Seventh Circuit disagrees, with the Estate’s assertions. The Seventh Circuit says that the district court did not abuse its discretion, that the the driver’s license photo was not a requirement to obtain the warrant in the first place; and that the statements in the warrant application, including those by the informant, “were not being offered for the truth of the matter asserted. . . instead, they were offered to show what Myers knew at the time to support probably cause to arrest Osborne.” An interesting additional note made by the Seventh Circuit is that even if said states do constitute hearsay, probably cause may include otherwise inadmissible hearsay, so long as a “substantial basis” for credit is met.

DEFENDANT FAILED TO OVERCOME PRESUMPTION THAT ARREST WARRANT IS VALID

The defendant’s false arrest allegation hinges on the notion that the arrest was made without probably cause, which would in turn, mean the original arrest warrant was invalid. Probably cause is an “absolute” defense to a false arrest allegation. When determining whether a warrant was valid, the is a presumption in favor of its validity and in favor of the government actors involved with obtaining the warrant. Notably, there were ten drug pickups in which the undercover was involved with picking up illegal drugs from the defendant. An additional component that is notable in determining the warrant is the notion that any complaints as to the warrant, must include facts that were known to the officer at the time. The addition or change of later factors has no bearing on whether the warrant was valid, as it is not a question of hindsight. To find that the warrant was invalid, the court’s analysis hinges on whether a reasonable officer would believe that the information on the warrant failed to meet the threshold of probably cause, or if the officer made false statements or omitted material facts in their support of probably clause. The Seventh Circuit ruled that neither of those factors were present, and that the high bar to overcome the presumption of a valid arrest warrant was not met.

TAKEAWAY FROM THIS CASE

It is interesting how a Section 1983 decision can read much more like a criminal appeal, rather than a civil one. The evidentiary issues regarding the admission or testimony that was purportedly hearsay, provides another strong example of when testimony is not hearsay, and when the rules of evidence might be used to preclude certain evidence. Further, the question of the warrant’s validity provides for an instructive framework in terms of the presumption that the government’s action is valid.

Johnson v. Myers, No. 22-1015 (7th Cir. 2022)