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March 21, 2017

Ruling 6-2, SCOTUS holds in Manuel that Fourth Amendment claim can be brought contesting pretrial confinement

The one criminal ruling handed down by the Supreme Court this morning, Manuel v. City of Joliet, No. 14–9496 (S. Ct. March 21, 2017) (available here), has a majority opinion authored by Justice Kagan than gets started this way:

Petitioner Elijah Manuel was held in jail for some seven weeks after a judge relied on allegedly fabricated evidence to find probable cause that he had committed a crime.  The primary question in this case is whether Manuel may bring a claim based on the Fourth Amendment to contest the legality of his pretrial confinement.  Our answer follows from settled precedent.  The Fourth Amendment, this Court has recognized, establishes “the standards and procedures” governing pretrial detention. See, e.g., Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U. S. 103, 111 (1975).  And those constitutional protections apply even after the start of “legal process” in a criminal case — here, that is, after the judge’s determination of probable cause.  See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U. S. 266, 274 (1994) (plurality opinion); id., at 290 (Souter, J., concurring in judgment).  Accordingly, we hold today that Manuel may challenge his pretrial detention on the ground that it violated the Fourth Amendment (while we leave all other issues, including one about that claim’s timeliness, to the court below).

Justice Alito wrote the chief dissent (which is joined by Justice Thomas), and it gets started this way:

I agree with the Court’s holding up to a point: The protection provided by the Fourth Amendment continues to apply after “the start of legal process,” ante, at 1, if legal process is understood to mean the issuance of an arrest warrant or what is called a “first appearance” under Illinois law and an “initial appearance” under federal law.  Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 725, §§5/109–1(a), (e) (West Supp. 2015); Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 5.  But if the Court means more — specifically, that new Fourth Amendment claims continue to accrue as long as pretrial detention lasts — the Court stretches the concept of a seizure much too far.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the Court’s approach is that it entirely ignores the question that we agreed to decide, i.e., whether a claim of malicious prosecution may be brought under the Fourth Amendment.  I would decide that question and hold that the Fourth Amendment cannot house any such claim.  If a malicious prosecution claim may be brought under the Constitution, it must find some other home, presumably the Due Process Clause.

March 21, 2017 at 12:57 PM | Permalink


It would be interesting if the Illinois bar authorities looked at the actions of the prosecutor here.

The Court seems more interested in justice in this particular case than setting forth rules. Maybe that works with respect to these facts.

Here's a law school hypo: case is dismissed May 4th, but guy is in jail May 5th--he learns of the dismissal and tells the guards to let him go (assume guards know of the dismissal). He uses force to escape--what result?

Posted by: federalist | Mar 21, 2017 1:16:04 PM

I think there was some setting forth of rules.

Big rule is that a falsely obtained warrant/detention order/charges does not immunize jail/arresting officer from an unlawful detention claim. Second big rule is that an unlawful detention claim is a Fourth Amendment claim and that the claim covers the entire period of detention, not just the initial arrest.

Obviously, there are some issues not addressed: 1) is there a 1983 claim (whether under the Fourth Amendment or due process clause) if there is no detention; 2) if the initial detention order actually was properly obtained but the probable cause dissipates (e.g. field tests show the presence of controlled substances, but lab tests do not confirm) is the continued detention unlawful (and if so from what date); and 3) what if true facts potentially established probable cause. This Court, for better or worse, has tended to narrowly decide cases and not address the logical next questions (whether briefed by the parties and amici or not).

Posted by: tmm | Mar 21, 2017 1:58:06 PM

I should have been more clear--Court didn't care much for existing rules, and Alito has a very strong point about "seizure"--but his point does have a bit of artificiality to it in that most people (and remember the Constitution is for most people) don't really make distinctions that fine.

This is a results-driven decision--that's not a criticism. But results-driven decisions can have unfortunate consequences.

Posted by: federalist | Mar 21, 2017 4:19:06 PM

I'm not convinced this was results-driven. If it were results-driven, they would have reached the result they wanted rather than punted on virtually everything. It seems they just answered a narrow question based on existing precedents and that's it.

Posted by: Erik M | Mar 22, 2017 1:06:20 PM

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