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Police Need Not Give Reason for Arrest, U.S. High Court Says

Date Posted to Site: 12/14/2004

Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Police officers don't have to give a reason when 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 wasn't illegal,
the high court said the arrest was valid because they could have charged him
instead with impersonating a police officer.

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 wrote.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who announced Oct. 25 that he is being
treated for thyroid cancer, didn't take part in the ruling.

Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Rehnquist, 80, will abstain from some of
the cases argued during November. 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.

Ruling Reversed

The arrest ruling 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 offense.''

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 after seeing him stop behind
a disabled vehicle on a highway in 1997. The occupants of the disabled car
told police they thought Alford was a police officer because his car had
headlights that alternated flashing on and off.

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 the Washington state
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 privacy law didn't protect police officers on the

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.

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