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County of Riverside v. McLaughlin

Brief Fact Summary. A class action suit, challenging the county’s procedure of combining probable cause determinations for parties arrested without a warrant and the arraignment process.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. “Where an arrested individual does not receive a probable cause determination within 48 hours, the burden of proof shifts to the government to demonstrate the existence of a bona fide emergency or other extraordinary circumstance, which cannot include intervening weekends or the fact that, in a particular case, it may take longer to consolidate pretrial proceedings.”

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Once the suspect is in custody, however, the reasons that justify dispensing with the magistrate's neutral judgment evaporate.

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Facts. Plaintiff MacLaughlin initiated a class-action lawsuit, alleging that the County’s practice of combining arraignment with a determination of probable cause for people subject to warrantless arrest was not sufficiently prompt under the Fourth Amendment. Generally, arraignments must be held within forty-eight hours of arrest. However, weekends and holidays were not included as “days”. Persons arrested at the end of the week could have as many as seven days before arraignment and a probable cause determination.

Issue. “In Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1975), this Court held that the Fourth Amendment requires a prompt judicial determination of probable cause as a prerequisite to an extended pretrial detention following a warrantless arrest. This case requires us to define what is “prompt” under Gerstein.”

Held. Under “Gerstein”, the court recognized practical realities of administrative functions, differences among localities in processing arrested individuals, etc. Thus, the court believes “that a jurisdiction that provides judicial determinations of probable cause within 48 hours of arrest will, as a general matter, comply with the promptness requirement of Gerstein. For this reason, such jurisdictions will be immune from systemic challenges.” In instances where it takes longer than 48-hours, “the burden shifts to the government to demonstrate the existence of a bona fide emergency or other extraordinary circumstance. . . . A jurisdiction that chooses to offer combined proceedings must do so as soon as is reasonably feasible, but in no event later than 48 hours after arrest.”

Dissent. J. Marshal, joined by J. Stevens and J. Blackmun, dissent, on the grounds that “a probable-cause hearing is sufficiently ‘prompt’ under Gerstein only when provided immediately upon completion of the ‘administrative steps incident to arrest.’”
J. Scalia argued that Court’s interpretation that “Gerstein meant by ‘a brief period of detention to take the administrative steps incident to arrest’ is two full days” was incorrect. A potential defendant is entitled to “a prompt impartial determination that there was reason to deprive him of his liberty – not according to a schedule that suits the State’s convenience in piggybacking various proceedings, but as soon as his arrest was completed and the magistrate could be procured.” Acknowledging that some “outside” constraint was necessary, the justice stated “it is an “unreasonable seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment for the police, having arrested a suspect without a warrant, to delay a determination of probable cause for the arrest either (1) for reasons unrelated to arrangement of the probable cause determination or completion of the steps incident to arrest, or (2) beyond 24 hours after the arrest.”

Discussion. “Only those proceedings that arise very early in the pretrial process – such as bail hearings and arraignments – may be chosen. Even then, every effort must be made to expedite the combined proceedings.”

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