Arrests and Other Detentions

Arrests and Other Detentions.—That the Fourth Amendment was intended to protect against arbitrary arrests as well as against unreasonable searches was early assumed by Chief Justice Marshall56 and is now established law.57 At common law, warrantless arrests of persons who had committed a breach of the peace or a felony were permitted,58 and this history is reflected in the fact that the Fourth Amendment is satisfied if the arrest is made in a public place on probable cause, regardless of whether a warrant has been obtained.59 However, in order to effectuate an arrest in the home, absent consent or exigent circumstances, police officers must have a warrant.60 The Fourth Amendment applies to "seizures" and it is not necessary that a detention be a formal arrest in order to bring to bear the requirements of warrants or probable cause in instances in which warrants may be forgone.61 Some objective justification must be shown to validate all seizures of the person,* including seizures that involve only a brief detention short of arrest, although the nature of the detention will determine whether probable cause or some reasonable and articulable suspicion is necessary.62

56 Ex parte Burford, 7 U.S. (3 Cr.) 448 (1806).

57 Giordenello v. United States, 357 U.S. 480, 485-86 (1958); United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 416-18 (1976); Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 583-86 (1980); Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 211-13 (1981).

58 1 J. STEPHEN, A HISTORY OF THE CRIMINAL LAW OF ENGLAND 193 (1883). At common law warrantless arrest was also permissible for some misdemeanors not involving a breach of the peace. See the lengthy historical treatment in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 326-45 (2001).

59 United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411 (1976). See also United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38 (1976) (sustaining warrantless arrest of suspect in her home when she was initially approached in her doorway and then retreated into house). However, a suspect arrested on probable cause but without a warrant is entitled to a prompt, nonadversary hearing before a magistrate under procedures designed to provide a fair and reliable determination of probable cause in order to keep the arrestee in custody. Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975). A "prompt" hearing now means a hearing that is administratively convenient. See County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44, 56 (1991) (authorizing "as a general matter" detention for up to 48 hours without a probable-cause hearing, after which time the burden shifts to the government to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances justifying further detention).

60 Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980) (voiding state law authorizing police to enter private residence without a warrant to make an arrest); Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204 (1981) (officers with arrest warrant for A entered B's home without search warrant and discovered incriminating evidence; violated Fourth Amendment in absence of warrant to search the home); Hayes v. Florida, 470 U.S. 811 (1985) (officers went to suspect's home and took him to police station for fingerprinting).

61 United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980) (opinion of Justice Stewart) ("[A] person has been 'seized' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only if, in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave"). See also Reid v. Georgia, 448 U.S. 438 (1980); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16-19 (1968); Kaupp v. Texas, 538 U.S. 626 (2003). Apprehension by the use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the Fourth Amendment's reasonableness requirement. See, e.g., Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985) (police officer's fatal shooting of a fleeing suspect); Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593 (1989) (police roadblock designed to end car chase with fatal crash). Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007) (police officer’s ramming fleeing motorist’s car from behind in attempt to stop him).

* The justification must be made to a neutral magistrate, not to the arrestee. There is no constitutional requirement that an officer inform an arrestee of the reason for his arrest. Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 155 (2004) (the offense for which there is probable cause to arrest need not be closely related to the offense stated by the officer at the time of arrest).

The Fourth Amendment does not require an officer to consider whether to issue a citation rather than arresting (and placing in custody) a person who has committed a minor offense - even a minor traffic offense. In Atwater v. City of Lago Vista,63 the Court, even while acknowledging that the case before it involved "gratuitous humiliations imposed by a police officer who was (at best) exercising extremely poor judgment," refused to require that "case-by-case determinations of government need" to place traffic offenders in custody be subjected to a reasonableness inquiry, "lest every discretionary judgment in the field be converted into an occasion for constitutional review."64 Citing some state statutes that limit warrantless arrests for minor offenses, the Court contended that the matter is better left to statutory rule than to application of broad constitutional principle.65 Thus, Atwater and County of Riverside v. McLaughlin66 together mean that - as far as the Constitution is concerned - police officers have almost unbridled discretion to decide whether to issue a summons for a minor traffic offense or whether instead to place the offending motorist in jail, where she may be kept for up to 48 hours with little recourse. Even when an arrest for a minor offense is prohibited by state law, the arrest will not violate the Fourth Amendment if it was based on probable cause.2

Until relatively recently, the legality of arrests was seldom litigated in the Supreme Court because of the rule that a person detained pursuant to an arbitrary seizure—unlike evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful search—remains subject to custody and presentation to court.67 But the application of self-incrimination and other exclusionary rules to the States and the heightening of their scope in state and federal cases alike brought forth the rule that verbal evidence, confessions, and other admissions, like all derivative evidence obtained as a result of unlawful seizures, could be excluded.68 Thus, a confession made by one illegally in custody must be suppressed, unless the causal connection between the illegal arrest and the confession had become so attenuated that the latter should not be deemed "tainted" by the former.69 Similarly, fingerprints and other physical evidence obtained as a result of an unlawful arrest must be suppressed.70

62 Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 146-49 (1972); Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661 (1979); Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 51 (1979); Reid v. Georgia, 448 U.S. 438, 440 (1980); Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981); Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326 (2001) (approving "securing" of premises, preventing homeowner from reentering, while search warrant obtained). Los Angeles County v. Rettele, 550 U.S. 609 (2007) (where deputies executing a search warrant did not know that the house being searched had recently been sold, it was reasonable to hold new homeowners, who had been sleeping in the nude, at gunpoint for one to two minutes without allowing them to dress or cover themselves, even though the deputies knew that the homeowners were of a different race from the suspects named in the warrant).

63 532 U.S. 318 (2001).

64 532 U.S. at 346-47.

65 532 U.S. at 352.

66 500 U.S. 44 (1991).

2 Virginia v. Moore, 128 S. Ct. 1598 (2008).

67 Ker v. Illinois, 119 U.S. 436, 440 (1886); see also Albrecht v. United States, 273 U.S. 1 (1927); Frisbie v. Collins, 342 U.S. 519 (1952).

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Last modified: June 9, 2014