You might think that if police stole your stuff, you'd have some legal recourse.
But the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled otherwise.
While exercising a search warrant in 2013, Fresno police raided and seized $50,000 from Micah Jessop and Brittan Ashjian, two businessmen suspected of illegal gambling (neither was ever criminally charged). Worse, the two claimed that police actually grabbed $151,000 in cash and $125,000 in rare coins, and “stole the difference” above what was reported on the inventory sheet. Critically, the $225,000 that was allegedly stolen wasn’t included on the inventory report for seized property or booked into evidence.
Arguing that the alleged stealing violated their constitutional rights, Jessop and Ashjian sued...
But over the years courts have invented a thing called "qualified immunity" to protect police and other government officials from accountability. Under this doctrine, plaintiffs must not only show that their constitutional rights were violated, but that rights were so "clearly established" that "a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful.”
And what is a "reasonable officer", these days? According to the court, being a "reasonable" police officer doesn't require knowing that stealing is wrong.
For the Fresno case, since “there was no clearly established law holding that officers violate the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment when they steal property seized pursuant to a warrant,” the Ninth Circuit briskly concluded that “the city officers are entitled to qualified immunity.” Incredibly, even though the judges conceded that “virtually every human society teaches that theft generally is morally wrong,” the Ninth Circuit flatly denied it was “obvious” the officers were in the wrong legally.