U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

No Million for Peaches: D.C. Police Win Wild Party Bust Appeal

Remember the unbelievable D.C. v. Wesby civil rights case that involved a bunch of alleged trespassers and their host Peaches that got arrested while partying in a vacant house and then won $680, 000 (actually a cool million after attorney fees)? Well, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in this week, and those trespassing partygoers likely aren't going to be celebrating anymore, as the High Court just reversed and remanded the case.

Interestingly, where the district and appellate court found each of the proffered justifications for probable cause for arrest of the partygoers to be insufficient, SCOTUS saw the totality of the circumstances to be more than enough. Additionally, rubbing salt into the wounds (and case) of the partygoers, the Court found that the district and appellate courts' failure to find qualified immunity was a clear error.

High Court: The Totality Says Crime

The very fact that this case was successful at the district and appellate court level was considered nearly unbelievable given all the facts.

The police arrive at the scene of the party at 1 a.m. A neighbor tells the police the house where the party is happening has been abandoned for several months. The police knock at the door and notice partygoers scrambling. When police enter, the scene they find is rather peculiar. The house appears to be a vacant home that has been converted into a makeshift strip club, with no real furnishings, garbage on the floor, and the smell of marijuana in the air. None of the partygoers can give the police the name of the person who invited them, except for a few who claim a woman named Peaches invited them. After several phone calls to Peaches, who was not even present, police discovered that she was not the owner, or even a renter, of the property (though she did try to rent the place). At that point, all the partygoers were arrested for trespassing. Curiously though, the charges were dropped.

As SCOTUS noted, the district and appellate court viewed each of the facts above in isolation, rather than taking all the facts into consideration to get an understanding of the officers' view of all the circumstances. The High Court noted that given all the facts being observed together, the officers clearly had probable cause to arrest, even if the partygoers indicated that they believed they were invited in earnest and had no intent to, or knowledge that they were, trespassing.

Over Qualified for Immunity

And while SCOTUS could have ended their inquiry by reversing on the totality of circumstances evaluation, it didn't. The Court continued on to explain that given all the circumstances (which were especially peculiar), the officers were actually acting reasonably and did not violate clearly established rights. Given that the court found probable cause, no rights were violated in arresting the partygoers, and therefore the officers are entitled to qualified immunity.

For the latest Supreme Court news, subscribe to FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Newsletter.

Related Resources: