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Clerical Error Results in Police Arresting Man Who Had Already Paid Fine, Scuffle Ensues and Defendant Is Arrested on Additional Charges – Hunt v. Massi

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People often react negatively to the experience of being arrested. There is a high level of embarrassment, a dread of impending confinement, and sometimes a significant level of pain as the arrest is effectuated. A recent case in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit illustrates some of the issues that can arise during the arrest process.

The Facts of the Case

In June 2011, an arrest warrant was issued for the plaintiff on the grounds that he had failed to pay a traffic violation fine. In actuality, the plaintiff had paid the fine in question some time before, but a clerk had failed to record the payment. Unfortunately, however, this was not discovered by police until after the arrest had taken place.

Although the alleged charges against the plaintiff involved only a traffic violation, four officers were involved in his arrest. The reason for it was not clear, but it may have stemmed from the fact that the defendant had been arrested two months prior on a drug charge. When officers arrived at the plaintiff’s home at 6:25 a.m., the plaintiff’s wife opened the door and then led two of the officers to the couple’s bedroom, where the plaintiff was sitting on the bed.

The officers informed the plaintiff that he was under arrest. The plaintiff did not resist arrest at that time but did request that he be handcuffed with his hands in front of him rather than behind him. According to the plaintiff, this request was due to a surgery that he had recently had. The officers refused, and a scuffle – including the officers kneeing the plaintiff in the leg and back – ensued. The officers charged the plaintiff with resisting arrest and with assault and battery on a police officer, but a jury found him not guilty on either charge.

The Issues in the Trial Court

The plaintiff brought a federal lawsuit against two of the officers and the town that employed them, seeking relief for civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He also included pendent state law claims for battery, malicious prosecution, and violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act. The trial court denied the police officers’ claim of qualified immunity on summary judgment, and the defendants sought interlocutory appellate review.

What the Appellate Court Decided

On appeal, the court decided that the plaintiff did not have a clearly established right to be handcuffed with his hands in front of him. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claim of excessive force in violation of federal law. On the pendent state claims, the court found that the district court should have granted summary judgment to the defendants on both the plaintiff’s state law civil rights charge and his battery claim. The court did not reach the plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claims because it did not have appellate jurisdiction. Accordingly, those claims were remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

If You Need Legal Advice Concerning a Criminal Case

It is hard to believe that a simple clerical error resulted in not only a man’s forcible arrest but also his prosecution on charges of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, but such situations are more common than you might think. Since there is so much at stake in a criminal case, you need a law firm that you can trust if you have been arrested on criminal charges. The Law Office of John C. Manoog, III is currently accepting both felony and misdemeanor criminal defense cases in the Cape Cod area. To schedule at appointment, phone our office at (888) 262-6664. Nos falamos Portugues.

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