Paul v. Davis

424 U.S. 693, 96 S.Ct. 115, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976)


Paul and McDaniel are both police chiefs in Jefferson county and Louisville respectively. Paul distributed to roughly 800 merchants a flyer of mug shots of people known to have committed crimes so that their security staff could be on watch. One mugshot and name was of Davis. The sheet said he was an “active shoplifter” and he claims he was not.


Whether “respondent’s charge that petitioners’ defamation of him, standing alone and apart from any other governmental action with respect to him, stated a claim for relief under… the 14th Amendment.”


No. There is no constitutional doctrine that says the 14th amendment protects your reputation, so as to make a claim for defamation of character. “… reputation alone, apartment some more tangible interests such as employment, isn’t liberty or property” … protected by the 14th amendment.


The ruling essentially says that police officers can arbitrarily brand innocent citizens and blemish their reputations without any means of redress. Being accused of criminality if a very stigmatizing thing. “If there are no constitutional restraints on such oppressive behavior, the safeguards constitutionally accorded an accused in a criminal trial are rendered a sham.”

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