Thursday, July 22, 2010

10th Circuit: Student Journo's Illegal Search Suit Against Deputy DA May Proceed

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In a 30-page decision this week, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the trial court decision in Thomas Mink v. Susan Knox (Case No. 08-1250), holding that a former Deputy District Attorney's qualified immunity privilege did not protect her from being sued personally regarding an improper search of a student journalist's home.

Grounded on a criminal libel law claim brought against student journalist Thomas Mink's parody of Univ. of Northern Colorado Prof. Junius Peak that appeared in the Howling Pig student newspaper, Greeley, Colo., police obtained a warrant and searched Mink's home. The appellate court ruled the search violated Mink's First Amendment rights, and asserted that authorities should have known it did so.

According to the 10th Circuit decision, Knox did not personally have to participate in the abridging of Mink's civil rights to face exposure to liability, but that an "affirmative link" between the deprivation of Mink's rights and Knox's exercise of control or discretion was sufficient. The ACLU took up the cudgel, representing Mink as a means of challenging the state's criminal libel law.

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