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3. Muehler v. Mena (2005)
Supreme Court rulings that have chipped away at the Fourth Amendment are a dime a dozen. From 1983’s Illinois v. Gates, which drastically reduced the requirements for police to obtain a warrant based on an anonymous tip, to 2002’s Board of Education v. Earls, which paved the way for public schools to require students to undergo drug tests before participating in intramural activities, Americans’ civil liberties have taken a real beating from the high court in recent years.
But a more recent case has even broader implications for the Fourth Amendment. In 1998 Iris Mena was handcuffed and kept in her garage for three hours while an 18-member SWAT team searched her home for a suspected gang member. Mena sued, saying that there was no need for officers to keep her in handcuffs once they had determined that she not a threat. She also claimed in her suit that the officers could have avoided destroying her property if they had permitted her to unlock door and cabinets. Additionally, the officers questioned Mena about her immigration status, despite the fact that she was not the target of the raid.
In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0* in Muehler v. Mena that the need for law enforcement officers to “take command of the situation” during a lawful raid on a residence or business outweighed Mena’s concerns about being detained for an overly long time, or the destruction of her property. The majority also held that Mena being questioned about her immigration status was not a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.
The dissenting justices held that keeping Mena, who stands 5-feet-2-inches tall, in handcuffs for three hours was excessive and that she should have been released immediately upon determining whether she was a threat to the officers.
In 2012, the Obama administration cited Muehler v. Mena in a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in its defense of several DEA agents who roughly handcuffed two young girls—ages 11 and 14—during a wrong-door raid.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against Mena in Muehler v. Mena. The ruling was 9-0 against Mena, with four justices concurring. We regret the error.
Next: Smoked out.