The case is Manuel v. City of Joliet, decided by the Supreme Court on March 21. This constitutional case actually looks at our nation's founding document in the most technical manner possible. We start with the Fourth Amendment's protection against "unreasonable seizures." Is that 48-day detention a seizure? If it is, then Manuel can sue.
Writing for the Court, Justice Kagan notes that the Supreme Court said four decades ago that a claim challenging pretrial detention falls within the scope of the Fourth Amendment. Subsequent Supreme Court cases say that pretrial detention can violate the Fourth Amendment not only when it precedes but when it follows the start of legal process in the criminal case. Manuel's criminal case had already started he spent all that time in the slammer. Here is where the technicality comes in. Manuel has a case under the Fourth Amendment and not -- as the Seventh Circuit held -- under the Due Process Clause. Here is the analysis:
Pretrial detention can violate the Fourth Amendment not only when it precedes, but also when it follows, the start of legal process in a criminal case. The Fourth Amendment prohibits government officials from detaining a person in the absence of probable cause. That can happen when the police hold someone without any reason before the formal onset of a criminal proceeding. But it also can occur when legal process itself goes wrong—when,for example, a judge’s probable-cause determination is predicated solely on a police officer’s false statements. Then, too, a person is confined without constitutionally adequate justification. Legal process has gone forward,but it has done nothing to satisfy the Fourth Amendment’s probable-cause requirement. And for that reason, it cannot extinguish the detainee’s Fourth Amendment claim—or somehow, as the Seventh Circuit has held, convert that claim into one founded on the Due Process Clause. If the complaint is that a form of legal process resulted in pretrial detention unsupported by probable cause, then the right allegedly infringed lies in the Fourth Amendment.In other words, it was an unlawful seizure even after the criminal process began because there was no probable cause to detain Manuel. As Justice Kagan writes, "Legal process did not expunge Manuel’s Fourth Amendment claim because the process he received failed to establish what that Amendment makes essential for pretrial detention—probable cause to believe he committed a crime."
The remaining question involves the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court does not take up that issue, instead sending it back for the Seventh Circuit to worry about it. The Supreme Court does summarize the different points of view on this issue. If we treat Manuel's seizure like a malicious prosecution case, then his lawsuit is timely because the statute of limitations would begin on the day the charges were dismissed. But if we treat Manuel's case like a false arrest, then the statute of limitations began the day he was arrested, and this case is untimely.