Police Need Not Say Why Arrest Made:
U.S. High Court Overview
Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Police officers don't have to give a reason
at the time they arrest someone, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a
ruling that shields officers from false-arrest lawsuits.
The justices, voting 8-0, threw out a suit against Washington state
police officers who stopped a motorist and then told him he was
being arrested for tape-recording their conversation. Although the
recording was legal, the high court said the arrest was valid
because the man could have been arrested instead for impersonating a
In an opinion for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said the
officers didn't have to provide a reason for arresting the man at
all, as long as they had probable cause to do so.
``While it is assuredly good police practice to inform a person of
the reason for his arrest at the time he is taken into custody, we
have never held that to be constitutionally required,'' Scalia
The decision was one of five issued by the court today in
Washington. In a second unanimous ruling, the court said the Florida
Supreme Court was wrong to set aside a death penalty verdict on the
grounds that the defense lawyer didn't obtain explicit client
authorization to concede guilt and focus on the penalty phase of the
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the high court, said that
factor didn't automatically render the lawyer's performance
deficient and warrant a new trial in the murder case.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who announced Oct. 25 that he is
being treated for thyroid cancer, didn't take part in either
Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Rehnquist, 80, will abstain from
some of the cases argued during the two-week period that started
Nov. 1. The chief justice, however, will take part in all cases
argued during the subsequent two-week December argument session that
began Nov. 29, she said.
``The chief justice has decided he will not participate in November
cases unless the conference vote without him is 4-4,'' Arberg said.
``He is going to participate in the December cases.''
The news, coupled with the announcement last week that Rehnquist
plans to administer the oath of office to President George W. Bush
at the Jan. 20 inauguration, suggests the chief justice isn't
planning to retire any time soon. Medical experts say Rehnquist, who
has undergone a tracheotomy, chemotherapy and radiation, may have an
especially aggressive form of thyroid cancer.
In other cases, the court:
-- Limited the power of companies to sue other businesses and the
federal government for the cost of cleaning up hazardous wastes. The
justices ruled 7-2 that a disputed section of the Superfund law
doesn't authorize companies to sue for cleanup costs unless they are
facing a federal enforcement action. The decision left open the
possibility that type of suit could be filed under a different
section of the law.
-- Shielded a police officer in Washington state from an excessive-
force lawsuit filed by a suspect who was shot in the back by the
officer while trying to flee in a vehicle.
In the false-arrest ruling, the justices reversed a decision by the
San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals
court had said an arrest on an invalid charge can't be upheld unless
police could have filed a different charge over a ``closely related
Scalia said the 9th Circuit reasoning would have ``perverse
consequences,'' giving officers an incentive not to give any reason
for an arrest.
The troopers pulled Jerome Anthony Alford over in 1997 after seeing
him stop behind a disabled vehicle on a highway. The occupants of
the disabled car told police they thought Alford was a police
officer because his car had headlights that alternated flashing on
The troopers said that, when they stopped Alford, they saw that he
had a police scanner and handcuffs. A supervisor arrived and noticed
that Alford had a tape-recorder that was recording his conversation
with the officers.
The officers arrested Alford on a charge of violating Washington's
Privacy Act, which makes it unlawful to record a private
conversation without all parties' consent. Alford told the officers
he had a copy of a court ruling that said the state privacy law
didn't protect police officers on the job.
The charge later was dismissed, and Alford sued the two officers,
claiming false arrest and a civil rights violation.
The case is Devenpeck v. Alford, 03-710.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr @ bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Glenn Hall at ghall @ bloomberg.net.
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