Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

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

This case answers the question:

If I am arrested without a warrant how long before I get to see a judge?

An individual may be detained, as a general rule, up to 48 hours for a determination of probable cause. If the hearing is not conducted “promptly” there has been a violation of the individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The issue in this case falls on the interpretation by the Court as to what specifically constitutes a “prompt” probable cause determination under the previous holding in Gerstein v. Pugh. 420 U.S. 103. In Gerstein, the Court stated that States “must provide a fair and reliable determination of probable cause as a condition for any significant pretrial restraint of liberty, and this determination must be made by a judicial officer either before or promptly after arrest.” Id. at 125. Further, the Court noted that warrantless arrests are permitted but individuals must be promptly brought before a neutral magistrate for a judicial determination of probable cause. Id. It was also stated that a State has no legitimate interest in detaining individuals for extended periods of time who have been arrested without probable cause. Id. at 114. The Court concluded in Gerstein that the Fourth Amendment requires every State to provide these “prompt determinations” of probable cause, however, the Constitution does not impose a rigid procedural framework on the States to accomplish this.

In the present case, the Court analyzed whether the policy used by the County of Riverside which imposed a two-day requirement for arraignments violated the “prompt” requirement imposed in Gerstein due to the fact that it excluded weekends and holidays from the computation. It was specifically noted that over the Thanksgiving holiday, it was possible to endure a seven day delay. 500 U.S. 44, 47. The Court held that a jurisdiction that provides judicial determinations of probable cause within 48 hours of arrest will, generally, comply with the promptness requirement of Gerstein. Id. at 56. However, the Court also found limitations on this rule. Specifically, the Court stated that simply because a probable cause determination has occurred within the 48 hour general rule, does not mean that the “prompt” requirement has been met. Id. The Court also concluded that jurisdictions may choose to combine the probable cause determinations with other pretrial proceedings, so long as they do so within the instituted 48 hour general rule. Id. at 59. An individual can prove that their Fourth Amendment rights have been violated through a showing that, even though the determination was made within 48 hours, the determination was unreasonably delayed. Id. at 56. If an individual is arrested and has not received a probable cause determination within the 48 hour general rule, the burden shifts to the government to prove the existence of a bona fide emergency or an extraordinary circumstance. Id. at 57.

However, even with this ruling, the Court recognized that the Fourth Amendment permits a “reasonable postponement of a probable cause determination while the police cope with everyday problems of processing suspects through an overly burdened criminal justice system.” Id. at 55. This exception poses a duty on the court to allow a “substantial degree of flexibility” when determining if a delay in determination is unreasonable. Id. at 56.