Albright v. Oliver
Decided on Jan. 24, 1994; 510 US 266


After a man's drug case is dismissed he alleges his due process
rights were violated for being tried in the first place


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Criminal Justice (Drugs), 4th Amendment, 14th Amendment

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is prosecution without probable cause deprivation of substantive due process under the 14th Amendment?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

An arrest warrant was issued for petitioner Kevin Albright, charging him with the sale of a substance that looked like an illegal drug.  Albright learned of the outstanding warrant, and surrendered to respondent, Roger Oliver, a police detective.   Although he surrendered due to the arrest warrant, he denied his guilt of the offense.  At a preliminary hearing the court found probable cause for trial, but the court later dismissed the case on the ground that the charge did not state an offense under Illinois law.   

Albright then filed a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, which provides relief to those deprived of civil rights.  Petitioner alleged that Respondent deprived him of his substantive due process right under the Fourteenth Amendment to be free of prosecution without probable cause.  The District Court dismissed his case on the ground that Albright's complaint failed to state a proper claim. The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that prosecution without probable cause can be tried under Section 1983 only if the petitioner is incarcerated, loses employment, or experiences some other "palpable consequence."  The US Supreme Court granted certiorari.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
John H. Bisbee argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Barry Nakell. James G. Sotos argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Michael W. Condon, Charles E. Hervas, and Michael D. Bersani
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Leon Friedman, Steven R. Shapiro, John A. Powell, and Harvey Grossman filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae, urging reversal.
Richard Ruda filed a brief for the National League of Cities et al. as amici curiae, urging affirmance.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"We hold that it is the Fourth Amendment, and not substantive due process, under which petitioner Albright's claim must be judged. Section 1983 'is not itself a source of substantive rights,' but merely provides a 'method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'...

The protections of substantive due process have for the most part been accorded to matters relating to marriage, family, procreation, and the right to bodily integrity... Petitioner's claim to be free from prosecution except on the basis of probable cause is markedly different from those recognized in this group of cases...

The Framers considered the matter of pretrial deprivations of liberty and drafted the Fourth Amendment to address it. The Fourth Amendment provides:

'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'

We have in the past noted the Fourth Amendment's relevance to the deprivations of liberty that go hand in hand with criminal prosecutions... We have said that the accused is not 'entitled to judicial oversight or review of the decision to prosecute'... But here petitioner was not merely charged; he submitted himself to arrest. We express no view as to whether petitioner's claim would succeed under the Fourth Amendment, since he has not presented that question in his petition for certiorari. We do hold that substantive due process, with its 'scarce and open-ended guideposts'... can afford him no relief."

Held:  The judgment of Appeals affirmed.
Justice Vote: 2 Pro vs. 7 Con
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined Kennedy's concurring opinion)
  • Souter, D. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Pro (Joined Steven's dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU filed as amicus, urging reversal of the ruling of the Court of Appeal; the US Supreme Court affirmed the ruling in a 7-2 vote giving the ACLU an apparent loss.