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County of Riverside v. McLaughlin


The ruling settled controversy which arose after Gerstein v. Pugh (1975), as to the meaning of "prompt, " when referring to the necessity of providing a prompt probable cause hearing to someone arrested without a warrant. A suspect arrested without a warrant has a Fourth Amendment right to prompt judicial determination of whether probable cause existed for his arrest. Absent extraordinary circumstances, "prompt" means within 48 hours.

Donald Lee McLaughlin was incarcerated in the Riverside County Jail in California. He had been arrested without a warrant and had not yet received a hearing. In August of 1987, Donald Lee McLaughlin filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California seeking prompt probable cause, bail, and arraignment hearings for himself and other in-custody arrestees who had been arrested without warrants. In November of 1988 the district court certified as a "class" those prisoners in the Riverside County Jail held there from 1 August 1987 to the present and all future detainees denied prompt probable cause, bail, or arraignment hearings. In a class action lawsuit, a named petitioner files a complaint on behalf of himself and others who are similarly situated, meaning suffering from the same problem. A judge must then certify, or approve, these people filing a lawsuit as a group. If they receive certification, they become the petitioners in the lawsuit.

In County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, the petitioners asked the district court, in March of 1989, to issue a preliminary injunction (an order) to require the county to provide all those arrested without a warrant a probable cause hearing within 36 hours of their arrest. At this type of hearing, a law enforcement officer must explain to a judge why he arrested a person without a warrant. The officer must show that at the time of the arrest he believed an offense had been committed and that the arrestee likely committed it.

The lawsuit challenged the way that Riverside County provided probable cause hearings to those arrested without a warrant. The county combined the probable cause determination with arraignment procedures. At an arraignment, the suspect is formally charged by the judge and enters a plea of guilty or not guilty. Although county policy was to conduct the arraignment without unnecessary delay--within two days of the arrest--the two-day requirement did not compute in weekends and holidays. Thus someone arrested late in the week might be held for as long as five days before getting a probable cause determination. If the arrest took place around Thanksgiving, a seven day delay may have occurred.

The district court issued the injunction stating that the existing practice of the county violated the Supreme Court's decision in Gerstein v. Pugh, which mandated "prompt" probable cause hearings for people arrested without warrants. The district court adopted a rule that the county must provide such hearings within 36 hours of arrest. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court's decision to grant the preliminary injunction. The court of appeals stated that the county's policy of providing probable cause hearings within 48 hours was not in accordance with the Gerstein requirement of a hearing "promptly after arrest" because no more than 36 hours were needed. The Ninth Circuit joined the Fourth and Seventh Circuits in interpreting the Gerstein ruling to mean that a probable cause hearing must immediately follow the completion of the administrative procedures that occur after an arrest. The Second Circuit, however, stressed the need for flexibility and the desire of states to combine probable cause hearings with other pretrial proceedings.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994County of Riverside v. McLaughlin - Significance, The Promptness Requirement, No More Than 24 Hours Is Needed, Impact