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When cops sue cops for libel

Aug 07, 2007 When cops sue cops for libel

The First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

Talk about a court case involving two of my passions on opposite sides, with allegedly lying cops on one end (a pet peeve of mine if I ever had one) and a libel suit against the allegedly lying cops (I strongly oppose libel suits). Add to the mix that this is a lawsuit by cops against cops, making this enough fodder for a dark comedy. The case is Smith v. Danielczyk, ___ Md. ___ (July 25, 2007).

Smith confirms that police have qualified — not absolute — immunity against libel lawsuits for providing false information in an application for a search warrant or arrest warrant. The immunity is lost when the police know the information to be false or recklessly disregard whether the information is false. Smith  confirms the Supreme Court’s holding in Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409 (1976) that prosecutors, on the other hand, have absolute immunity from libel lawsuits in seeking an indictment.

How would I react if a police officer asked me to represent him or her as a defendant in such a libel lawsuit? Even if I knew the defendant had knowingly lied in the search warrant application, I still would accept the representation, at the very least because I oppose libel suits. Jon Katz.

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