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United States v. Salerno


In the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration began pushing for legislation that would reduce crime, especially crime by previously convicted felons and crime lords. The Reagan administration also sought to eradicate organized crime and began targeting Mafia leaders for prosecution through investigation by various government agencies. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 (RICO) provided prosecutors with an effective method of charging crime chiefs, by authorizing the convictions based on crime patterns instead of completely on individual crimes. Furthermore, the administration allowed the use of phone taps for obtaining evidence and offered witness protection programs to Mafia members who provided information on crime bosses.

Resulting from the Reagan administration's initiatives, the Bail Reform Act of 1984 required courts to conduct a special hearing to decide whether to hold those accused of serious felonies, such as murder and racketeering, without bail before their trial. Under the act, in order for the court to detain the accused in this manner, the government must offer ample evidence to demonstrate that the accused presents a danger to particular people or to the community. At the same time, the accused has a right to legal representation, to testify, to cross examine witnesses, and to offer evidence.

Following these procedures, the District Court of Southern New York ordered the respondents, Anthony Salerno and Vincent Cafaro, to remain in jail until after their trial, because of their extensive criminal charges: 35 counts of racketeering, including fraud, extortion, and conspiracy to commit murder. Moreover, Salerno, know as "Fat Tony," was the boss or leader of the Genovese Crime Family of La Cosa Nostra, a crime organization that operated throughout the Northeast. In addition, Salerno controlled several Teamsters union officials and used his power to influence the International Brotherhood of Teamsters' elections. Fortune magazine recognized him as the wealthiest and most powerful gangster in the country in 1986. The other respondent, Vincent Cafaro, held the important position of captain in the organization.

The respondents used their rights under the Bail Reform Act to appeal their pretrial detention, arguing that it violated their Fifth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial or due process. The court of appeals reversed the district courts decision, finding the pretrial detention of the respondents unconstitutional. The appeals court found that denial of bail applies only to circumstances where the accused is apt to disrupt the trial by intimidating witnesses and fleeing before trial, not to the mere suspicion of danger. Elsewhere, other courts of appeals considered the act and also found it unconstitutional.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988United States v. Salerno - Significance, Background, Rights Of The Community V. Rights Of The Individual, Further Resistance To The Bail Reform Act