Reynaga Hernandez v. Skinner, 2020 WL 4579494 (9th Cir. 2020)
During a court proceeding, a witness testified that another witness, Miguel Reynaga Hernandez, was “not a legal citizen.” The justice of the peace directed the local sheriff’s office to “call me a deputy. I have two illegals sitting outside. I want them picked up.” A deputy came to the court and arrested Reynaga. Reynaga had a consular identification card, but he did not speak English well enough to explain his immigration status. Finding no warrant or other basis to hold Reynaga, the deputy contacted immigration officials.
Reynaga was held for three months before being released. He then sued the deputy and the justice of the peace for an unlawful arrest. Many prior articles in Xiphos have detailed court holdings and statutes plainly stating that, while it is a crime to unlawfully enter the United States, mere presence without proper immigration authority is a civil violation — and not a crime. Lexipol law enforcement policies and Daily Training Bulletins have long helped officers and agencies understand these concepts in immigration law.
Though obeying a judge is generally wise, officers should carefully consider an arrest that would violate the agency’s policy and training or violate clearly established constitutional rights.
The trial court ruled the deputy and the justice of the peace violated the clearly established constitutional right to not be arrested for unlawful presence in the United States. Neither the justice of the peace nor the deputy had any legal authority to enforce civil immigration provisions. Thus, neither defendant could be protected by qualified immunity for a blatantly illegal arrest.
The deputy appealed, arguing he didn’t arrest Reynaga until after speaking with a federal immigration officer who asked that Reynaga be detained, even though the deputy had already stopped Reynaga from going into the courtroom, ordered him outside, handcuffed him and placed him in a patrol car. The court didn’t agree, holding that a reasonable person who was blocked from entering the courtroom, handcuffed, taken outside and placed in the deputy’s patrol car would not believe he was free to leave (which would be difficult to do while locked in a car and handcuffed). The court also held the judge, who might be expected to be familiar with the law, “was an integral participant in the violation of Reynaga’s constitutional rights.”
Accordingly, both the deputy and the judge commanding the deputy must face liability for the illegal arrest. Though obeying a judge is generally wise, officers should carefully consider an arrest that would violate the agency’s policy and training or violate clearly established constitutional rights.
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