County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44 (1991)

2012-08-27 22:00:12

Arrests are justified if the police have probable cause, which is defined as meaning ‘‘facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge that are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.’’ When a warrant is used, the issuing magistrate determines if there is probable cause. When the police act without a warrant, they do so without such a determination.

Gerstein v. Pugh (1974) established that the Fourth Amendment required that a person detained after a warrantless arrest must be given a prompt judicial hearing to establish probable cause for continued detention. In McLaughlin, the Court was called on to interpret what ‘‘prompt’’ means.

McLaughlin was a class action complaining about the policy of the County of Riverside, California, which required such hearings within two days of arrest. The policy excluded from computation weekends and holidays. Thus, a person arrested late in the week could be held as long as five days before the hearing. Over the Thanksgiving holidays, a seven-day delay was possible. The Court concluded that judicial determinations of probable cause within forty-eight hours of a warrantless arrest usually are reasonable. This conclusion was a practical compromise between the government’s interest of detaining dangerous individuals and the individual’s liberty interest.

McLaughlin provides a needed benchmark. The forty-eight-hour rule gives assurances to state and local jurisdictions that, if they comply, they will be immune from systematic challenges to their probable cause hearing procedures. It also gives meaning to the promise made by Gerstein to detainees that there will be a prompt determination whether continued detention is justified.


References and Further Reading

  • Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 37 (1979).

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103 (1974)

See also Arrest; Arrest Warrant; Due Process; Seizure