The Case for Pyjamas

As of today, the police have a right to make you jump out of bed naked if they have a valid warrant — even if it's pretty clearly for someone else, and even if the someone else sold you the house you are living in three months earlier.

Meet Los Angeles County v. Rettele:

Deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department obtained a valid warrant to search a house, but they were unaware that the suspects being sought had moved out three months earlier. When the deputies searched the house, they found in a bedroom two residents who were of a different race than the suspects. The deputies ordered these innocent residents, who had been sleeping unclothed, out of bed. The deputies required them to stand for a few minutes before allowing them to dress.

The residents brought suit under Rev. Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983, naming the deputies and other parties and accusing them of violating the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The District Court granted summary judgment to all named defendants. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding both that the deputies violated the Fourth Amendment and that they were not entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonable deputy would have stopped the search upon discovering that respondents were of a different race than the suspects and because a reasonable deputy would not have ordered respondents from their bed. We grant the petition for certiorari and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals by this summary disposition.

Incidentally, Justice Stevens's concurrence takes a much more sensible position, avoiding the constitutional question, although one that non-lawyers may find a bit technical.

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