ARLINGTON, Va.—Imagine police arrested and detained you for a crime someone with your same name committed. This happened twice to a Florida man named David Sosa. Now, a group of other men named David Sosa have teamed up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to file an amicus brief urging the United States Supreme Court to hear his case against the officers who unlawfully detained him.
In November 2014, during a routine traffic stop, Sosa was told by police in Martin County, Florida that there was a warrant out for his arrest, but they had the wrong man. The warrant was for a different David Sosa with a different age, height, weight, social security number, and tattoos who was wanted for a 1992 crime in Texas. The innocent Sosa was arrested and detained for three hours. He chalked the first arrest up as a mistake. Then, four years later, it happened again. This time, Sosa knew all of the ways to prove to police that he was not the David Sosa wanted in Texas. Nevertheless, the officers—from the same police department, executing the same warrant—ignored his pleas that he was innocent, arrested him, impounded his truck and threw him in jail for three days.
“If something like this could happen to one of the David Sosas in Florida, it could happen to a David Sosa anywhere, which is why I’m supporting this important case,” said 51-year-old David Sosa of Mecklenburg, North Carolina, one of the men who signed onto IJ’s amicus brief.
When Sosa attempted to sue the police for the unlawful arrests, he was originally able to overcome the officers’ argument that they were entitled to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that shields government officials from being held civilly liable when they violate constitutional rights. In 2021, a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the officers qualified immunity. But the full court reviewed the case en banc and ruled that Sosa did not have a claim against the officers. The majority ruled that Sosa’s detention based on mistaken identity “gives rise to no claim under the United States Constitution,” because it only “lasted three days.”
“Nobody should go to jail just because they share a name with someone else who has an outstanding warrant. When police ignore obvious signs that they’ve arrested an innocent person, they must be held accountable,” said IJ Attorney Jared McClain, the author of the amicus brief. “A temporary violation of someone’s constitutional rights is still a violation of their constitutional rights; that’s why we’re urging the Supreme Court to take Mr. Sosa’s case and overturn the en banc decision.”
Through its Project on Immunity and Accountability, IJ seeks to hold government officials accountable for violating the rights of everyday Americans. IJ currently has two petitions pending before the United States Supreme Court dealing with immunity issues: One on behalf of a Texas grandmother who was arrested for criticizing her city government, and another on behalf of an innocent then-college student who was beaten to a pulp by two plainclothes members of a federal task force. Among others, IJ is also currently fighting against immunity for a rogue judge who led a warrantless search of a man’s home during a divorce hearing, and against cops who arrested a citizen journalist for doing his job.